In previous columns, I've touched on the idea of tapping a Microsoft enterprise architect to help make the most of your existing infrastructure . But to get a better sense of what that process entails, I thought it best to present you with an inside look at what these experts do.
For Microsoft services, the enterprise architect -- formerly known as an ITAP advisor -- fulfills a unique role. The enterprise architect analyzes all the technologies the client organization currently implements, not just the Microsoft solutions, assessing how these technologies may best be implemented, managed, or enhanced by new technologies to serve business goals.
I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Dereszynski, an enterprise architect and principal consultant at Microsoft's Consulting Services. Dereszynski is currently providing strategy and architecture planning services to a large retailer, one of Microsoft's biggest customers
InfoWorld: When approaching a client or an organization that has requested a consultant, what's the first thing you assess in terms of that organization's IT strategy and the technologies it is currently using?
Michael Dereszynski: The assessment starts with a "business capability" assessment. We look at what kinds of things other organizations in the client's industry do. In my particular case it's with a retailer, so things like replenishment, inventory management, cash office management -- those kinds of functions. From that list of industry-specific capabilities, we then map those functions to products that currently fill that need, and then where they're executing in terms of maturity level and value to the business where they feel like they have a competitive advantage in that area.
InfoWorld: What do you do if a company is using a product that you don't particularly like and you really feel it would be better for them to switch over to a Microsoft version of that product -- say, they're using VMware's vSphere , and your passion is for Hyper-V . How do you accomplish the goal of advising without overstepping into selling?
Dereszynski: In my mind, it comes down to business value and specifically what they're trying to get out of the product. In some cases, we won't be looking to displace a product, we'll be looking to figure out whether they can leverage that product better than they currently are or whether there is a fit with some other investment they've made. So we try and stay out of the feature-by-feature comparison realm. That's a different role.
InfoWorld: So you wouldn't necessarily push a product. Even though you're officially there as a Microsoft representative, your goal is not to sell, but to help them work with the products that are already part of the organization's infrastructure?
Dereszynski: Absolutely. Simply focusing on credibility, it gives me better credibility if I can help them maximize investments they've made, regardless of the platform. I'm not there to be selling products. I'm there to help them take advantage of stuff that they currently have in place. This helps build relationships across the customer base. In many cases I'm actually doing silo breaking within the client itself. Two groups may be using completely different products that do the exact same kind of thing, and that's kind of an optimization we can help with as well.
InfoWorld: Have you ever found yourself advising in a hostile environment where you were faced with individuals who were not entirely appreciative of your role -- not necessarily the decision-makers that pulled you in but some of the others at the client site that you worked with?
Dereszynski: I'd love to tell you that I've never been in a hostile environment, but I think your readers would know that that's not possible -- there are plenty of places in IT and in business to get involved in that kind of environment.
As a matter of fact with one client last year, we started down a path to help them improve their release management process for products that are built internally. And simply by coming with a Microsoft name they assume that we are going to be kind of selling Visual Studio Team Foundation and the Visual Studio  tools in order to do the end-to-end lifecycle.
The reality after the first couple of sessions was they realized that we are there to help define the entire process. Where appropriate I pointed out where our tools fit, but I also pointed out to them that they had also made investments in other products that may also fit along those lines in that solution.
At the end of the day, the ultimate solution ended up being a combination of Microsoft products and competitive products.
InfoWorld: It started off somewhat hostile because they had a preconceived notion as to what your role was going to be, and then that was changed over a period of time to see that that was not what you were there for at all.
Dereszynski: Yes, absolutely. Especially when the very first thing I said is we're not going to have a product conversation, we're going to have a capability conversation.
InfoWorld: So, Michael, can you tell us a little bit about the type of work that you are undertaking at your current client to help that customer see the business value?
Dereszynski: I would point to the recent Windows 7  rollout. Again this was a case where they thought the real value to them was to roll out Windows 7 as an operating system upgrade, and the reality is, because I have relationship with the CTO and the strategy organization, I understood that the strategy was all about dynamic client computing. It was more than simply upgrading the operating system, it was putting thin clients in the right places, shoring up the VDI environment, and creating different ways for people to work.
Working with the engineering and architecture group, we actually took a step back, defined those capabilities, those high-level kind of goals for the project, and then we fit the Windows 7 rollout into that, and we fit in different other capabilities such as VDI, vendors, access to the network, things that may in the end -- and we haven't gotten all the way through the process yet -- could be fulfilled by Microsoft products or they could not be. But what they get at the end of the day is they get the whole story of why are they doing dynamic line computing as opposed to simply just rolling out Windows 7.
InfoWorld: What did you use for the VDI client connection?
Dereszynski: We haven't made any decisions yet. I have a team of people that are very focused on virtualization . One of my guys is a top virtualization expert in the industry and he'll help them navigate the right product. He's got deep technical experience in VMware 's products, Citrix  products, Microsoft products, Xen  products, et cetera.
Another project that we did last summer was to help the infrastructure engineering team figure out where they should be headed in the course of the next three to five years. Again that was working with engineers, architects, the CTO, the strategy organization.
Although we started in the Windows group, again back to the, well, if you're from Microsoft, that must be your area of expertise, we started in the Windows group, showed them the process we used, and eventually elevated that up to the point where we helped the CTO and the strategy organization define the priorities on a more global level, some of which have nothing to do with Microsoft products whatsoever.
I can't go into the strategies, but the things like systems management and, you know, client computing, server computing, those kinds of things, cloud, where they're going with cloud, and really tying those back to the business to show them why we are investing in infrastructure, which is typically a cost center in most environments.
InfoWorld: Can you give us an idea as to the size of this organization, even though you can't give us the details of the company itself?
Dereszynski: The IT department is around 3,500 people I would say onsite.
InfoWorld: Just the IT department?
Dereszynski: Yes. It's a massive, massive organization. It's an incredible honor actually that I'm trusted to advise these folks, and I have an incredible team behind me. You know, I'd be remiss in not pointing out that. I'm not the guy who delivers all of this stuff. I just happen to coordinate the efforts of a lot of very, very smart people, people that are way smarter than I am, all focused on bringing customer value.