REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 16, 2001 — Like the dial tone on a telephone, the underlying architecture of a computer operating system isn't generally paid much attention unless something goes wrong. And then, of course, it's the sole focus.
Lori Moore, Microsoft's Vice President of Product Support and Services (PSS)
"Stability and support are very important when an enterprise is run on one specific type of software," says Kevin King, Management Information Systems director for the Supreme Court of the state of Oklahoma. "One outage can shut down the entire operation." Support features that are anything less than stellar, he explains, represent a risk he's not willing to take. "When we're not running, people cannot avail themselves of the courts," he says.
Knowing that Microsoft was focused on delivering an extremely reliable platform and improved product support for Microsoft Windows XP Professional, King jumped at the opportunity to upgrade the Oklahoma Court Information System (OCIS) enterprise -- which consists of more than 1,900 users at 53 locations spanning 70,000 square miles -- to the professional version of the newest Windows operating system, which will hit stores Oct. 25.
A core development goal for Windows XP was to provide both home and professional users with a new standard in efficient and dependable computing, improving product support by reducing the need for it.
Even though the upgrade to Windows XP is not yet complete, King says he's already seen benefits. The performance and stability improvements in Windows XP, he says, have contributed to improved productivity for his users, who are experiencing far fewer application errors that result in lost work or the need to reboot. "Even in the midst of the upgrade, we didn't have a single increase in help desk calls," he says. "In fact, since we began the rollout we've seen a steady decline in calls."
But when support is needed, Windows XP users can access an integrated Help and Support Center built into the desktop. With one click, customers easily find comprehensive self-help resources, diagnostic tools and assisted support services. And getting online service is easier, thanks to two new assisted-service features, Remote Assistance and Chat.
When issues do reach his organization's help desk, King says, they get resolved far more quickly for users who have upgraded to Windows XP Professional.
"Windows XP Professional is already improving our ability to secure, manage and support our widely distributed desktop environment," he says. "Feedback from end users has also been extremely positive, ranging from comments on improved performance and stability to a more intuitive user interface."
The bottom line for King is that Windows XP is the best Windows release ever. "It's the most stable, the most compatible with non-Microsoft software, and the fastest," he says.
Real Input From Real Users
A major contributor to the experience that King is enjoying with Windows XP, says Lori Moore, Microsoft's vice president of Product Support and Services (PSS) is the fact that the service and support features are integrated directly into the foundation of the technology. This, she says, is the direct result of one of the things that Microsoft does best: implementing customer input.
Microsoft's PSS teams consist of support professionals in 60 countries supporting more than 170 Microsoft products. "With each customer interaction, we first work to solve the problem, and then we learn from that interaction," Moore says. "Incorporating that learning into product design and service offerings is a key part of our success."
In fact, products don't reach Microsoft customers until PSS signs off on them. "Before we ship a product, PSS reviews it to ensure its stability because we'll have to support it," she says. "We don't come in at the 11 th hour. We have people engaged early on in the process to address problems collaboratively." PSS engineers, she adds, are core to design teams at Microsoft. Many are located in the same facility as the development teams and participate regularly in team meetings.
Windows XP, Moore says, exemplifies what can happen when partnerships ascend to collaboration. Users gave feedback requesting a variety of PC-health features, ranging from the prevention of problems to better self-help and easier, more efficient assisted help. Windows XP, Moore says, delivers. "We couldn't ship the most reliable OS without input from real users," she says. "The learning we've gathered is core to fixing problems."
Support Evolution: Windows XP Ushers In The Convergence Era
In the 1980s and early 1990s, in what PSS now refers to as the "Phone Support Era," users addressed computer difficulties by calling a support center and explaining what they were experiencing. This was followed by the "Internet Support Era," in which millions of customers used the Web to get help. Now with Windows XP, Moore says, the "Convergence Era" has arrived.
The Convergence Era, she says, is characterized by flexibility built on the range of choices made possible by the Internet. Features include easier access to answers, tips, instructions, bug information and more powerful support tools that help users quickly identify and resolve problems. Windows XP also provides support professionals with diagnostic tools that help solve customer problems more quickly and effectively.
"Offering choices is crucial," Moore says. "Users who are very technical would much rather go online and search knowledge bases for answers, so we've integrated those knowledge bases with the latest information that's always updated. And the search engines are extensible, so they're flexible enough to search across multiple databases."
Other users, however, don't want to poke around for answers. "They want someone to get it for them and, most importantly, for the problem to go away," Moore says. "For years we've surveyed customers, and the longer it takes to solve a problem the more dissatisfied they are."
The Convergence Era solution: a user can click on Get Help From Microsoft from within the Help & Support Center and choose to send the problem directly to an engineer, who can see the problem up close and solve it. "We've taken support to the next level," Moore says. "We're leveraging technology rather than spending users' time going through a list of questions."
Support Features Simpler for the End-User
"There are three positions an IT organization can choose to be in when it comes to new technology," King says. "Behind the curve, current but rapidly decaying or committed to remaining on the leading edge."
When he arrived five years ago, King says, the Oklahoma Supreme Court was behind the curve. By adopting new Microsoft products as quickly as possible, King says the Oklahoma Supreme Court can immediately begin reaping the benefits enabled by the new technologies they contain.
In the future, King anticipates that improvements in the Help and Support Center in Windows XP Professional will enable the court's IT staff to make users more productive. "The upgrade will enable us to integrate OCIS-specific help content with what's already provided for the operating system," he says. "This will help us deliver a more standardized help experience, and will aid end-user productivity in that they will be able to go to one place for all help and support needs."
Although relatively few OCIS users are currently mobile workers -- those who travel frequently with laptops -- he says the enhanced wireless capabilities in Windows XP Professional will be beneficial to judges who practice in rural areas, serving several counties on a rotating schedule. "My goal is to eventually replace the judges' desktop machines with laptops, and the built-in support for wireless networking in Windows XP Professional will enable them to carry these from their chambers to the courtroom without ever losing connectivity to the network," he says.
The Future: Seamless Support Solves Problems In the Background
Microsoft's Moore says she and her team of support professionals are already looking for ways to further improve the support features.
"My vision for the future is that we continue to develop new ways and technologies that let users get the service and help they need in both a reactive and proactive manner from within the product itself," she says. "I see the process becoming so seamless that the problems are solved in the background and the user isn't even aware that it was an issue."
Moore returns to the dial-tone analogy when articulating her vision for the future of Windows. "I want it to ultimately be the great utility -- always on, always working, in the background making things happen," she says. "Like a dial tone, users won't have to stop and think about what's going on. When technology can solve its own problems, it's nirvana, in my view."