How IT makes the difference at Microsoft Retail Stores

May 17, 2017   |  

One morning not long ago, the staff at a Microsoft Store arrived at work to find the place fouled by a stinking brown sludge. The lovely hardwood floors and pristine ceiling were wrecked by rancid cooking oil. Investigation revealed that a grease drain in a restaurant upstairs had failed overnight, sending the oozing mess down into the store. It took a swat team of hazardous waste cleanup specialists and a small army of builders to get us back into business.

Bev Hess
Bev Hess heads up IT operations for all 106 Microsoft Stores around the world.

I know this all because it’s the kind of call that comes into the retail helpdesk at the Microsoft Stores – a kind of 911 service that my Microsoft IT team provides. It’s where our associates go to get help for everything from slow CRM performance to problems with overflowing toilets. And it’s just one of the responsibilities I inherited when, about 18 months ago, I took a new role as head of IT operations for all 106 Microsoft Stores around the world. The learn-as-you-go education I’ve experienced has been intense, unexpected, and at times overwhelming.

Just the way I like it.

I had my first hint of the nature of my new role when we dropped the curtain to open the New York flagship store on October 26, 2015. It was my first day on the job.

It was an amazing scene, with press, luminaries, and wall-to-wall customers filling every corner of the huge space. I was with Charlie McNerney, then the VP of Retail Technology. And as the cheering began to subside, we turned our attention to monitoring server performance and other indicators of IT health. And it wasn’t long before things started going south. Slowdowns in CRM lookups, just for starters. Nothing fatal, as it turned out – in fact, as I was to discover, just par for the course. But with Black Friday looming just two weeks away, and with me drinking from the fire hose in an entirely new role, it was definitely new territory.

My team does all of what you would call the “run work” — we’re responsible for keeping the stores up from an IT perspective. In addition to running all core services – the back-end systems, Point of Sale, every machine in the store, and more – we run the helpdesk I mentioned earlier, we provide multiple levels of support, and we own sustained engineering, which has become increasingly critical as we move to the cloud.

It was in part because of the sea change that the digital transformation of Microsoft represents that I was brought into Retail IT. In a long career at Microsoft, I’ve gained a reputation as something of a builder, a “start-up” leader who can manage teams through change. My previous success in migrating all of the company’s CRM systems to Dynamics and off of a competitive platform turned out to be a good warm up.

It’s all a long way from the banks of the Mississippi River, where I was born and raised. My family had a small farm in southern Missouri – we raised our own animals for food – and from my bedroom window, I could see the famous Thebes courthouse, just as it stood during the Civil War. My dad was a riverboat captain; I always liked to call him a salty old dog. He ran the lower Mississippi, carrying rocks for the dikes downriver and out to the ocean. We used to go down to the riverside and wave at him when he’d drive his tugboat by.

My dad had a wanderlust about him. He loved to travel, he loved seeing new things. And I think I got a lot of that from him. I was the girl who liked science, who always had her head in a book, who wanted to explore the world and experience different things. I’m happy that I grew up on that farm in Missouri, but the truth is that I wasn’t suited for living in rural America. And so, early in adulthood, I left home for to attend a nearby state college, and then off to St. Louis. Much like the winding river that my father loved so much, my career has since meandered happily across industries, companies, and challenges of all kinds.

Now, the part of me that loves to learn, that dives into the deep end of the pool to take on a problem that feels just a little bit too big, is quite happy to be immersed in the new adventure that is Microsoft Retail IT. Like the rest of the company – the rest of the industry, really – we drive change on a constant basis. We often find ourselves pushed to the edge of our limits, as was the case last Thanksgiving when, in the early hours of Black Friday, we made the hard call to failover to the cloud. And at each step, we’re learning.

In coming blogs, I look forward to sharing more of the experiences we’ve had with Microsoft Retail IT, and the great lessons and insights it’s provided. In the meantime, I recommend you take a trip over to your nearest Microsoft Store.

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