The following post originally appeared in the Issue 6 of #TheFeed, and was written by Gerald Haigh, Freelance Journalist, following his interview with Steve Beswick. As discussed in the post below, Steve is well known in the Microsoft UK Education business as his position as Senior Director spans across sales, marketing, partner development and so much more. Anyone who has been to our #RedefineLearn events will likely have heard from Steve Beswick, but if not, now is your chance to get to know him…
I hadn't been in conversation with Steve Beswick for long before I recognised there was something in the way he spoke both about his work and Microsoft. It wasn't until much later that I realised what that 'something' was.
“As I listened to Steve’s account of his career journey, I realised I wanted to rewind to the point where he spoke about those early wins for Microsoft.”
Over the years I've met a number of people who have developed their own technology businesses, building them from scratch, to national, sometimes global status, buoyed up by belief in their product, confident that they were on a deeply worthwhile mission.
Steve, of course, as a senior employee of a global organisation is not in that position, and yet, very clearly, that same sense of ownership, commitment and buy-in to the project is all there in everything he says and how he says it. And that, for me, is surely the key to his successful leadership, and goes some of the way to explaining why his achievements recognised, in 2009, by the Bill Gates Chairman's Award for the best all round individual performance in the UK for that year.
Steve Beswick is well known to all who have any knowledge of Microsoft’s extensive commitments in UK Education. His position as Senior Director, Education – the fourth and most senior position he has so far held in a 23 year career at Microsoft – means he oversees all aspects of Microsoft’s business with schools, universities and colleges across the UK.
Because this covers sales, marketing, partner development, and educational programmes, he is highly visible, much sought after and always welcome, particularly at events where students are to the fore, which he particularly enjoys. By the time he joined Microsoft UK, in September 1993, Steve had already gathered significant experience in marketing computer technology. As is often the case with successful people, though, his first step into the workforce was not exactly what he had in mind. In 1984 he graduated from Lancaster University in environmental sciences, specialising in geology, with the aim of joining the oil industry, ‘But there was a recession,’ he says, ‘And students couldn’t get jobs. So I went back to my home town of Bedford and joined up with a friend who was setting up a PC dealership.’
There, Steve developed his selling and marketing skills on the then groundbreaking and phenomenally successful Commodore 64, with Microsoft DOS, floppy drives and the daisywheel printer (hands up if you used one).
From there, Steve went to a the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), now long-gone, but then a global competitor of IBM, there he ran important healthcare and finance accounts.
And then came that Autumn 1993 move to Microsoft.
‘I joined the original public sector team as the first healthcare account manager,’ he says, ‘We were entering a market dominated by names like Novell and WordPerfect, and making significant wins’. After managing NHS and other key accounts for Microsoft for nearly eleven years, Steve moved on to be Director, Partner Group. There followed a period as Director overseeing, and significantly growing, Microsoft’s business with Central Government – all areas including NHS, HMRC, Defence, Work and Pensions.
It’s not difficult to see how the knowledge and close contacts that Steve developed during his work with important public and private bodies in his first thirteen years at Microsoft must now be hugely significant for his current role in UK education.
As I listened to Steve’s account of his career journey, I realised I wanted to rewind to the point where he spoke about those early wins for Microsoft against Novell and WordPerfect, for I had a feeling that the reasons would be significant.
I wasn’t disappointed.
‘The key thing’, he said, ‘Was integration, ‘Word’, ‘PowerPoint’ and ‘Excel’ put together into this thing called ‘Office’. When I demonstrated to customers how they could drag and drop – take an extract of a spreadsheet and drop it into ‘Word’ it was just phenomenal. That was the key thing that drove our wins in that sector.’
That key factor – integration – remains, he explains, at the heart of all that Microsoft has done since and will do in years to come.
‘When people look at Microsoft, they think of new technologies, and we do all that, spending heavily on research and development, but the fact that there’s an integration layer that links it all together – is the same story from twenty years ago.’
That, I suggested, is a Microsoft USP.
‘There are three Microsoft USPs,’ is his response to that. ‘The breadth of our technologies, the integration of those technologies, and the ecosystem which consists of our partners building applications on the technologies.’
From that point in our talk I have to confess that I was running hard (metaphorically you understand) to keep up, because Steve was away, filled with enthusiasm for the Microsoft global vision, and all the implications for education now and in the years to come.
“Satya Nadella has brought a new vision to Microsoft,’ says Steve, ‘Of empowering every individual and company on the planet to achieve more.”
Brave words. But Steve breaks them down, to see what they imply.
‘Empowerment is in the bedrock of all that Microsoft does. It means giving individuals and teams the tools to be successful outside the hierarchies within which they have to work.’
‘Then there’s “everybody in the world” as an individual and as a company. That’s a big bold goal, but so was that of Bill Gates in the Nineties when he aimed for a PC on every desk. Look at that now, and then think where we might be thirty years from now.’
The third element of Satya Nadella’s mission is ‘achieving more’, and it was here that I found Steve’s analysis particularly interesting.
‘When we look at that in education,’ he says, ‘It means empowering every student on the planet to achieve more.’
Obviously, as Steve says, as well as supporting students directly, that will involve empowering teachers and head teachers and others, but ultimately, Steve emphasises, the focus is on students and their achievement.
‘Sometimes what I say can be seen as controversial, in that although ‘achievement’ can default to ‘academic achievement’, actually there many definitions and different areas of achievement.
In some schools, using technology to get a child to school may be an achievement, or simply helping them become a better citizen. There’s a rich dialogue to be had when we apply ‘achieve more’ to education.’
From there, Steve went on to outline another current passion, which he also regards as possibly controversial.
‘If you look at BETT, for example, you see a focus on teaching and learning, which is obviously good, but what comes back through our Partners is that’s not enough. What education leaders want is to be able to use their IT to make better-informed decisions within their schools and colleges.’
Steve suggests that if all of the technological support is aimed at teaching and learning, that leaves a gap at the ‘back end’, which is where the data that can inform leadership decisions can be captured and evaluated.
‘There’s a need to know how a student is really doing – not just by a mark out of ten, by knowing how he or she really got there, how many attempts it took to get it right. That’s where our Cloud platform comes into its own. Through Power Bi, we can get hold of data and present it in a simple way to the teacher. There’s a lot of work to be done in schools on this, and it all links back to the ‘achieve more’ mission.’
A tool like Power Bi, Steve explains, can empower a head teacher, providing the data to keep costs under control and make more informed decisions.
‘When I see good things happening in schools today, it’s to do with school leaders who see technology in the context of change, ensuring that all teachers are positive. Often, though, it’s that back-end data that’s missing. and here, with a product like Power Bi we have a competitive advantage.’
So that’s two significant contributions from Steve to the great education technology debate, delivered ad hoc, with hardly a question from me. But he hadn’t finished. There was another one to come, this time about educational research, or the lack of it.
‘There isn’t a lot of in-depth research in education. Yes there’s some, but if you compare it with healthcare and drugs, the research going into making people better is a really big market. That isn’t done in education.’
As Steve points out, education deals with individuals, so the analogy with health is not complete.
At the same time, he believes that the data from individual and unique school and college initiatives can, when collected and analysed, produce worthwhile information.
‘If you look at Power Bi in the Cloud, together with machine learning it’s a way of analysing historic information to predict what might happen. We’re working on a project at the moment to predict when a person joins a college what is their propensity to drop out.’
And for the future? I asked. But, of course, much of what Steve has already said lies in the future for many, perhaps most schools, and, the Satya Nadella pedagogy and technology.’
‘Mobile-first, Cloud-first’ vision will underpin much of what is to come (‘Mobile’ describing the user experience rather than the device.)
So, adds Steve,’ We’ll see more one to one, reduced cost of devices, seamless integration, better security. All already happening. I do want to emphasise what I said about data, though; that’s mainly still to come – people really understanding how important is data in the school environment, and looking at historical information on a mass scale and interpreting it.’
Finally, Steve has a broader and what he regards as a more straight forward vision to add.
‘How can we connect up schools in a simpler way? Shouldn’t we have teachers of the same subject talking and collaborating in a structured way, discovering best practice, introducing the new teacher to a network of teachers. There’s nothing to stop that now, with Yammer.’
And that kind of progress, of course, depends not on technology at all, but on the will of educators to make it happen. But that, of course, is a discussion for another time.
The very last word, appropriately, goes to Tim Bush, who, as Microsoft UK Education Marketing Manager, works closely with Steve. In one sentence, Tim goes right to the heart of Steve’s achievements.
‘With over 20+ years with Microsoft, Steve has seen the industry evolve into the ‘cloud first, mobile first’ world we live in today and brings a vast amount of experience into helping the community enhance the relationship between pedagogy and technology.’
Find Gerald Haigh on Twitter @geraldhaigh1