Interview with Helen Fanucci, a Digital Transformation Sales Leader at Microsoft

This is a transcription of our Interview with Helen Fanucci, a Digital Transformation Sales Leader at Microsoft. You can watch the original video interview here or tune in to the podcast episode here, iTunes, Spotify and other podcast apps by searching “Risk Management Show”

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Boris: Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to out interview with Helen Fanucci.

Helen is a Digital Transformation Sales Leader, Team Builder and Strategic Thinker at Microsoft. She is also an Educational Counselor for Massachusetts Institute of Technology

where she recruits and interviews the next generation of technology leaders.

Helen, thank you for coming to our interview today.

Helen: Thank you for having me Boris. It’s my pleasure and delight.

Boris: Absolutely. Thank you. It’s my pleasure as well. Today, we will do a deep dive into digital transformation as many organizations are busier than ever “digitizing”. Microsoft was in a position to act as digital first responders to the world’s first responders when the pandemic hit as your CEO Satya Nadella, put it.

With your background, I believe we will have a thoughtful conversation about digital transformation and how Microsoft is the paving the way.

Helen, can you tell me a short story about your unique path in the industry and what led you to manage such a large team at Microsoft?

Helen: Well, I started my career actually as an engineer, so I graduated from MIT and started working for IBM. And I decided shortly into my career that I didn’t want to be in the back room, making technology, but out in the front with customers, helping them use technology for business benefits and outcomes, and that’s been a theme throughout my career and it really hasn’t changed. And so I’ve had the good fortune to work for some fantastic organizations and companies, but always in roles where we’re helping customers utilize technology most effectively.

And of course, I’m very proud of the work that Microsoft has done to really help our customers transform rapidly when the pandemic hit.

Boris: So as you said, in many industries, COVID has accelerated the move to the digital transformation. And again as your CEO put it. They saw two years of digital transformation in just two months. And what changes are you seeing in the market? Can you tell us how are your clients impacted by this crisis and what organizations will need to do in order to adapt?

Helen: Satya said, all of a sudden the pandemic hit everybody in one fell swoop. And so some companies were more prepared than others to move their whole entire workforce to home. So some of the things we did early on as an organization is we literally helped companies provision not only with laptops and surface devices and move to the home, but help them with their security, moving from a firewall type arrangement into a zero trust cloud arrangement because it’s impossible these days to actually be able to effectively identify security threats without the use of advanced technology like AI and machine learning.

Moving companies to our public cloud enabled them to be much more adaptable and work collaboratively across population. There are workers wherever they were. It’s really impossible to do digital transformation and remote work without being in a public cloud environment because of the power and the scale that that provides.

And so we’ve helped companies do that and we’re continuing to help companies transform. And in fact we believe that hybrid work is here to stay. So some companies have been doing what I’ll call hybrid workarounds, they we’re doing kind of things that they needed to do to move quickly. And what we’re seeing now is companies really rethinking their infrastructure to be much more resilient, secure and one of the challenges and risks right now is the capacity for software engineers is at all time demand. In India, where many companies go for some software development work, they’re completely at capacity.

And even the 1.2 million new software engineers that get graduated every year, there are snapped up like that. And so it’s putting a strain on organizations to actually be able to harden their environments and to move to the next level of Transformation. And so we’re really leaning in to help them, but it’s a challenge I would say, across the globe with everybody rethinking work and trying to move their infrastructure from what I call technical debt, meaning antiquated or older systems, and they are trying to modernize rapidly because they see the need to do that in anticipation of well situation’s that might come, that were unanticipated like this current pandemic,

Boris: Microsoft has been transforming itself from the world’s largest software vendor to offering technology enabled solution such as hardware, software, services, and cloud computing to help customers improve their operations and their experience of daily lives.

So it looks like you guys at Microsoft totally reinvented your legacy organizations shifting from a focus on pushing new products into the mass market, to client solution oriented teams.

So Helen, can you tell us what is the secret behind such a rapid Transformation?

Helen: Well, actually our Transformation began years and years ago. And one of the things that we started doing is we really looked at all our applications and consolidated our applications and we’ve put all our data into a common data Lake. And so that enables us. We used to sometimes argue over what data was correct or what reports were correct. Now we’re all pulling from the same data source so we can have richer conversations and digital transformation or transforming and modernizing an IT organization and environment is literally impossible without cultural transformation.

And so one of the Satya’s first imperatives was really to focus on cultural transformation at Microsoft, and that’s been huge and it is ongoing. It’s a journey for sure. And we’re still on that journey, but we work together much more collaboratively. We work across teams, it’s a very matrix organization. And so it’s not just about the technology, but it’s also about how people work together.

And, you know, we all got very comfortable commuting by planes, trains, and automobiles, and meeting each other in person. And now we commute by logging on to our keyboards and it takes new skills, new skills of collaboration and building trust, not only with each other and a work environment, but equally with our customers.

Boris: So diving deep into the cultural transformation, what are the most important thing that leaders can do to create a good work from home culture?

Helen: So one of the things that pandemic has shown us is everybody is in a different situation. Some people have kids that they need to homeschool because all the schools are home, they have parents or family members that have been hit with the pandemic that may be in the hospital. So empathy and really connecting with people in a human level has become super important. And as a sales leader, I’m a leader of an organization, it’s one of the first questions I ask my team is, OK, how are you doing? What’s going on? How can I help you and support you?

And Microsoft has recognized that the wellbeing and health of the employees is first and foremost, because we can’t get anything do without a healthy workforce. And so we’ve ended up having flexible work arrangements, pandemic leave for people that need to take some more time off. Microsoft gave us some extra days called wellness days because people were overly stressed. The other thing that we’re seeing is now that everyone’s working virtually people’s calendars of book is solid.

And so we’ve implemented some new practices through teams and outlook, which is to be able to shorten meetings. So instead of a 30 minute meeting, make it 25 minutes or an hour meeting, make it 50 minutes. And there is some new research that’s come out from Microsoft research about brain science and even just taking a short step away and going for a quick walk has the impact of actually enabling people to have a much healthier outlook.

The brain science supports that. So we, we really have to look at new ways of working. And so those are some of the things that we’re doing internally within Microsoft would be much more empathetic. We also need to do that with our customers as well, and understand that our customer has their own set of challenges and how can we meet them where they are and better serve them in their career.

Boris: Maybe without dropping the names, it would be interesting to know what you or your team have recently achieved that you’re really proud of. How does it work in real life?

Helen: So one of our really important customers ended having the spear phishing cyber attack on their organization, and this is more common, there’s a saying that everybody gets some sort of security breach and they may know it or they may not know it. And so we have an amazing group of individuals that are kind of first responders to really help our customers recover from those situations.

And I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done in that area. And really first and foremost, how do we step up and really help customers in need, whether it’s a security situation or not. People, companies sometimes think, oh, Microsoft is trying to sell us more things to modernize. Yes, of course. However, there is a method. I mean, if you’re going to use the latest technology, you have a much better chance to protect yourself from external threats.

At Microsoft, we looked at trillions of signals in month, billions of analysis and take millions of action.

The emails that we analyze in just a single month alone coming in to all of our many signals, are 450 to 500 billion emails a month. So you really need advanced analytics tools like AI and machine learning. And it is a risk to organizations if they’re not current and using the latest technology, if there are antiquated hardware, there are more vulnerable to attacks. And in fact, it used to be about 10 years ago that people thought, Oh, well, if I have a firewall and I have my own data center, all be more secure than a public cloud provider can ever be.

And that notion has changed. And with all of the sophisticated nation state attacks, a public cloud provider can be far more secure. Yes, we get attacked, we see things, but it’s literally impossible for a single organization to have that kind of sophisticated security implemented within the organization and still be agile and be able to respond to the next pandemic or earthquake or threat.

And so I like to call it “been on a public cloud is kind of having herd immunity”. We see things we can help protect our customers and its kind of a version of herd immunity if you will. And it’s something that I think is literally impossible for individual organizations to do, certainly not at the size and scale as someone like Microsoft can do.

Boris: So if we take, for example, a life of a risk manager is a way I’m running Global Risk Community, we have about a hundred thousand people in the community. If there is one thing that the risk manager should start doing right now that they are not doing currently, what would that be?

Helen: I would say re-invision business continuity, business continuity strategies, backup redundancy, never envisioned a global pandemic, they were all about earthquake or floods. Well, those are local events and they can be devastating, but it’s pretty much assured that there’ll be new pandemics. So maybe not in a scale like we’ve seen with COVID, but we had Ebola SARS, avian flu.

So I think we really need to think differently about business continuity and risk in our business and make sure that you have agile infrastructure, modern infrastructure that can really adapt as organizations need to adapt to new risks.

The second thing I would say is we believe that talent is more important than ever and with hybrid work and with the pandemic, it’s shown us that people can work from anywhere.

And so it’s now a global marketplace. And so I also think one of the risks to organizations that perhaps hasn’t fully been realized is looking at your talent, your talent strategies and how you’re going to retain people. Because you’re now competing with everyone in the world and I have heard some folks in my social circle, say, if my company requires me to go back to the office, I’m going to quit my job.

I’m not going to work that way anymore. And for my team, it’s less about whether or not Microsoft has people going back to the office, it’s more about where our customers. Are our customers in their offices? Do I need to hire people in close proximity physically to my customers or are they also dispersed? So it will create new strategies for how we interact with our customers and conduct business.

And it might be that we don’t need to go to our customers’ offices anymore and maybe we can reserve a conference room in a Wework space or a hotel or something like that. So it will be different strategies about how we think about Real Estate and an office environment.

Boris: Helen. I would love to ask you a personal opinion. What is a commonly held belief in the digital transformation field or the biggest misconception that you are strongly disagree with?

Helen: I think that digital transformation is about technology. That is a misperception technology is the easy part. What’s the hard part is that the people is the culture. And I think people underestimate organizations underestimate what it takes to build a strong culture where people want to give their best at work, where they feel included, where they’re able to see career advancement, work collaboratively.

It’s a journey and it is underestimated and digital transformation truly at its core is not about technology, but about culture and people.

Boris: Okay, fantastic. So what are the major trends you see in your space and what should we expect from you guys in the future?

Helen: Well, the major trends are really looking at how people work together. So in a very short period of time, Zoom made the innovations. Microsoft made innovations on Teams and we’re going to see that continue. So kind of the employee engagement platforms, we’ve just launched a product kind on top of Teams, called Viva to have a single dashboard in place to work where you can work on training, career development and engaging with teammates.

So I think we’ll see a lot of advancements along those lines. I also think we’re going to see people craving to be back together in some human format, in close proximity. So I actually think that the business conference space is going to take off because we’ve all been in our Team or Zoom meetings but I think there’s a craving for people to have a connection together and learn from each other in close proximity.

So as I said, I think that at the conference, a business is going to take off when it’s safe to get back together again. And I also think that this pandemic has had people realized how do organizations realize and rethink how they think about their talent, their employees, their office space transforming. And we’re much more interconnected than perhaps we realized in the past. And so that will create different business strategies as well.

Boris: So if someone who’s listening to this, just to finalize would like to walk away with one or to a major take takeaways what would it be?

Helen: First and foremost is if you don’t have a remote work technology infrastructure, secure infrastructure strategies in place, business continuity is a catch phrase, but really look at your strategies for how you support a Global remote workforce and make sure it gets securely protected so if it was a workaround make it a permanent fixture.

The other thing is really pay attention to your talent and put in place deliberate culture strategies. Culture starts with a point of view, a set of values and vision within the organization. Rethink, is that a vision statement, a set of values is still relevant?

Younger workers have come into the workforce and I think some companies have outdated value statements. Are you enabling workers, the best talent to work in the way they want to work?

Or are you having kind of outdated ideas about what work, how to structure work to be effective and relevant for the community and the talent that you’re trying to attract because at the end of the day that will be a differentiator in the business opportunities, possibilities and revenue growth.

So I think talent strategies are more important than ever and building culture is more important than ever. We have a lot of strategies that Microsoft inclusion culture, in the US we brought Brene Brown in and the whole organization of over 10,000 employees in Microsoft US went through the Dare to Lead training from a senior leadership down to individual contributors. And that’s all about empathy in action and how we are really building trust.

And there’s a lot to unpack because diversity is easy in a sense that you can hire people that are diverse, but really having people feel included and be included really requires behavior change and that’s much harder to do, so it takes being very intentional.

Boris: For my own perspective as a leader at Global Risk Community, how can we contribute to the process of a better understanding of this complex world of Risk?

Helen: Well, I think science matters. And so there’re a lot of great thinkers that talk about where the risks are of the future. So there’ll be more pandemics, whether there’ll be global in scale, I don’t know, certainly climate change is a huge risk factor. And so there are some trends that you can read about, you can learn. I like to read from lots of different thinkers and also really think about who are setting the new trends and thought leaders in your community.

So I would take it from different disciplines, whether it’s brain science and how we work together or the science of climate change or the science of pandemics, and also looking at how new technologies, since I’m a tech girl, how new technologies can really make a difference in terms and inform business strategies.

Boris: Helen, thank you very much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Helen: Thank you for having me.

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