When I think of Microsoft, I think of software. I realize that Microsoft's worldwide consulting organization develops business solutions for customers, but perhaps like most people, I believe that the focus of the organization is to promote Microsoft solutions. And although I know that Microsoft participates on committees that promulgate software standards, the company is the last place I would look for general business practice information. So, I was surprised to discover that Microsoft has developed programs that integrate IT and business to deploy major enterprise applications and that meet crucial business objectives. Microsoft has dubbed these programs Microsoft Enterprise Services, and their goal is to merge industry and Microsoft best practices.

Enterprise Services comprises three components: the Microsoft Operations Framework (MOF), the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF), and the Microsoft Readiness Framework (MRF). MOF provides technical guidance for using Microsoft products to build mission-critical enterprise systems that are available, reliable, and manageable. MOF offers a plethora of white papers, case studies, assessment and support tools, and guidelines for best practices and operations—a complete set of tools and guides for data center management in a Microsoft environment. MSF provides the same kinds of materials, with the addition of courseware, and emphasizes a project's process and staffing elements. MSF pays special attention to component design, infrastructure deployment, application development, and enterprise architecture.

The Microsoft Readiness Framework
MRF provides tools and information to help organizations gauge how well they're positioned to handle the technical requirements of planning, building, and managing system solutions. To accomplish its goals, MRF offers assessment and readiness kits. These kits contain tools that help users assess the technical changes that are necessary to each step of the project process. Microsoft calls these kits the Scenario-based Management, Assessment, and Readiness Tools (SMART), and the kits are designed to determine individual and organizational readiness.

Determining individual readiness is a straightforward process that assesses the skills an IT professional needs to handle a project's technical changes and to make use of the new technologies and products that will accompany those changes. Because Enterprise Services relies on Microsoft technologies, the MCSE and related certifications can give IT staffers a higher comfort level with a project's technical requirements. However, no prerequisite exists in SMART for Microsoft certification. SMART offers its Individual Tool for Windows 2000, a questionnaire front end to a database that lets individuals evaluate their skill levels in various areas of expertise. Currently, the tool supports two topic areas: planning an Active Directory (AD) infrastructure in Windows 2000 Server, and desktop deployment implementation in Win2K Professional.

Determining organizational readiness involves assessing the technical skill set present in an organization and the organization's alignment with pending IT plans and corporate business objectives. Simply put, is the organization in a position to successfully accomplish the task at hand? Evaluating organizational readiness requires an honest and thorough evaluation of everything from the expertise of IT personnel to the corporate culture of the business to whether appropriate hardware and software is in place to achieve the desired business objective.

Clearly identifying a project's business objective is central to assessing organizational readiness. But simply asking yourself, "What business problem will this project solve?" can be more difficult than it sounds because finding the answer requires that you identify and answer many related questions. For example, what processes does this new project replace or supplement? What competitive advantage does it give the company? How much transition time can you afford? How much will you need? The SMART tools and guides will help you answer these questions so that you can assess how ready your business is to implement change.

An Integrated Plan
Microsoft claims that using MRF can improve an IT project's implementation in three ways. First, to ensure that a project won't founder in its early stages, MRF offers models for effective risk management. Second, to increase the confidence of the personnel charged with implementing the project plan, MRF provides documented best practices, resources, and guidance. Third, to increase project-execution efficiency, MRF thoroughly assesses how a project will affect an organization and what resources are necessary to ensure the project's successful completion.

When I started reading through the Enterprise Services description, I had an ugly flashback to an IT organization I once worked for that wasn't known for the efficiency of its project implementation and execution. We had seemingly endless planning meetings (often preplanning meetings) that resulted in more meetings whose purpose was to schedule additional planning meetings. By the time the project start dates arrived, we ended up with quite a few ad hoc projects that we completed by the skin of our teeth in the contracted time. But when I dug into the details of Enterprise Services, I realized that it speaks to an organizational requirement that my previous employer lacked: dedicated, committed leadership as a key component of the project process.

Getting Started
Whereas the tools and project configurations that Enterprise Services provides are based on Microsoft products, the techniques and skills that the framework uses are based on standard business practice. The framework uses the nomenclature of the worlds of technology and business, providing a bridge between an organization's IT and business staff members. Microsoft understands that the full support of both groups is crucial to the success of any large-scale project.

The framework documents provide a huge amount of information, which you can access from Microsoft's Web sites. A good place to start is at http://www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/default.asp?pageid=enterprise&pagecall=lifecycle. You can download the framework tools, including all of the white papers and assessment tools. IT personnel in small organizations would be well served by taking a look at the information available on this Web site; large organizations, especially those committed to Microsoft platforms, should consider the framework sites a must-visit.

If you think that Enterprise Services constitutes a reasonable course of action for your business but you don't know how to get started, Microsoft Certified Technical Education Centers (CTECs) offer MSF coursework, as well as an MSF certified trainer program. Individual courses are available, from a general introduction to MSF to detailed multiday courses in the principles of component design. Do yourself a favor—begin your investigation of Enterprise Services by visiting the framework Web sites today.