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Virtual Collaboration & Investing in STEM: A Conversation with Microsoft’s Adam Hecktman

I had the good fortune to recently meet Adam Hecktman, Director of the Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) in Chicago.  Adam was kind enough to give me a tour of the Chicago MTC and sit down with me to discuss what he sees happening as enterprises learn to become more pervasively connected through virtual collaboration tools.  He also shared a few highlights about the STEM mentoring program the Microsoft team have begun with a local high school here in Chicago.

How did you get into digital/emerging media?  What led you to heading up the Chicago MTC today?

I’ve been with Microsoft for over twenty years – so I basically grew into it, evolved with it you could say.        The MTC came about during the dot com days.  Our heritage started in eCommerce and we realized we had some untapped, broader potential to help enterprises collaborate on applying technology to their business needs   and challenges.  Not long after we started down this path, the dotcom bubble burst, but our focus on the bigger picture business problems set our course to bring us where we are today.  The nice thing about having taken a broader approach has been our ability to absorb the new stuff more quickly plus apply our learning across industries – we’ve never stopped adapting to the continuous market change, which our clients really appreciate.

What has been the most rewarding part of your digital experience to date?

Chicago is my passion – so being part of the larger community and helping its adoption of digital solutions has been particularly rewarding.  I look around at the amazing impact we’ve had on the local government, large business enterprises all the way to startups and I am blown away how digital media is re-shaping our City.  I enjoy taking on the challenges of technology adoption and seeing the possibilities that we’ve helped create that make a tangible difference in everyday lives.

Favorite all-time virtual collaboration tool – what sticks in your toolkit?

[Laughs] Of course SharePoint is my Swiss Army knife when it comes to digital.  But, I think we really need to ask ourselves, ‘Why is being social so important?’.  ‘Social’ is not just a new set of tools, instead I believe it’s a new way of thinking about the organization.  Being ‘Social’ means putting people at the center of the enterprise and ensuring everyone (customers, partners, etc.) can connect with the ideas and data that they need to get work done.  If you take a look at market conversations today – a lot of what vendors are talking about and buyers are asking about are things like message feeds, videos, and the like.  But the ones who are successful are asking what social technology will actually do to make me more productive and how can I ensure high level of adoption within my organization.  The bigger a company gets the harder that it is to do.  It’s about the connected experience and connected platform.  Which means that social should live where you’re people are and become intimately woven into the tools that everyone is already using across the enterprise.  Whether I’m writing in a Word document, sharing with Yammer, instant messaging, e-mailing – I want social to come to me, not me having to go somewhere to be ‘Social’ outside my normal realm.  You need single set of tools that integrate both where we work and how we talk into the same place.

How can IT departments best enable a true social business culture?  What opportunities and threats should they prepare for?

Employees, especially new ones will expect to be able to work the same way they do in their personal life.  Here’s what I see:  IT needs to manage the environment and users in it.  But IT also needs to figure out how to ensure the right information is being shared with right people without jeopardizing the enterprise.  IT teams should ensure the corporate governance around social collaboration is working properly – basically we need to make sure eDiscovery gets done right.  The big question on the technology community’s mind is how do they take what is working and extend it and grow as the business continues to adapt?  The Holy Grail is to help people work in ways that are similar to their personal style of social.  It’s about what we do throughout the day regardless of the role, location, or device.  As companies become more socially enabled, they need to think beyond a set of features that their environment will have and instead think about the end-game such as collaborative decision-making around new products, markets and acquisitions – these come about when  you can connect the right minds and data together.  Bottom line – IT teams should be focused on taking the effort out of making knowledge and people discoverable.

You talked about Chicago being your passion, in what ways have you been able to share your digital experiences with others, give back to the community?

Giveback feels like a bit of a misnomer – I see it as less of ‘giving back’ and more along the lines of opportunities to invest in the future talent of Chicago’s tech industry.  A project that I’m really proud of is the work that we’re doing with Mayor Emmanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) around Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education.  CPS has identified five neighborhood high schools that will be transforming into early college STEM magnets.  These schools will provide students with career readiness and given an opportunity to obtain an Associate’s degree in one of these disciplines.  We’re working with Lakeview High School and its principal, Dr. Lilith Werner, to develop curriculum, mentoring and job shadowing along with professional development training for the teachers.  Recently, some of the students came over to the Chicago MTC and our team shared their personal career experiences, which really inspired the students to think more broadly about their future in various STEM areas from the lab to sales to startup.  They also got to see some of the future of technology and play with the latest gadgets and tools being used in their fields of study.  It was great to see the students’ enthusiasm for technology and know they are going back into the classroom with ideas for their own personal future.

A native Chicagoan, Adam Hecktman is a recognized technology leader and active contributor to the non-profit community.  He is a member of the Executives Club of Chicago Technology Committee and has served on several advisory boards including the Mayor’s Council of Technology, Editorial Board of the International Journal of Innovation Science, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and The Family Institute of Northwestern University.  You can follow him on Twitter @littlestemperor

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

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