Microsoft's former NTO looks back — and forward

Brett Roberts says he's 'gainfully funemployed' after 12 years at Microsoft

Brett Roberts was Microsoft’s National Technology Officer, based in Auckland, but the company decided it needed the position to be based in Wellington. Unwilling to move, Roberts left. He looks back on his time at Microsoft and the challenges of the NTO role.

What is the biggest challenge of the NTO job?

Externally, the biggest challenge is probably determining how to engage within government in a way which is seen to deliver value and “make a difference”. Within Microsoft, the biggest challenge is aligning long-term NTO goals and activities with the company’s shorter term initiatives and campaigns.

See also: Microsoft's new tech officer to challenge perceptions
Where do you think Microsoft will have to concentrate?

I think there are a number of areas they will focus on over the next 12 to 24 months. Firstly, getting laggard agencies to deploy products they’re licensed for. There are a number of organisations who exited G2006 with the rights to deploy Windows 7 and Office 2007 — and other products — who are still using older versions. It’s hard to convince CIOs of the benefits of future Software Assurance agreements if they’re not deploying the products they already have the rights to.

Second would be open government. Microsoft has a good story to tell in this area and given that it’s a big focus with the Department of Internal Affairs and State Services Commission in particular I suspect this topic will be near the top of the list for Microsoft NZ. Lastly there’s the ever-present competition with other vendors and open source technologies.

What do you make of the changes to government procurement going on now?

Government procurement is an interesting topic. On one hand, many people expect the government to focus on providing opportunities for local suppliers while on the other, sourcing from large, international vendors can provide considerable cost savings. The PC tender is a classic example: purchasing locally-built PCs makes great sense from the point of view of supporting a local industry and creating jobs etc, however, tapping into the manufacturing efficiencies of an HP, Dell or Acer etc will probably result in greater cost savings. Irrespective of where government chooses to stand on that particular continuum, there’s little doubt that centralising government purchasing can, assuming it’s done properly, drive efficiency into the process to translate into cost savings.

What are you doing now? What are your plans?

I am currently “gainfully funemployed”. I am taking some time out to do some reading and relaxing and I am currently investigating a few interesting business opportunities along with doing a small amount of consulting.

At this stage I’m not planning to work for another large corporate and I’m hoping to be able to make my post-Microsoft life a mix of entrepreneurship, consulting and “giving back” activities such as mentoring start-up businesses or maybe the occasional guest lecture and so forth.

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