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The situation would have been comical if not for the problems it was causing: Here was the world’s largest software developer — whose products boosted efficiency at companies around the world — struggling to leverage technology within its own walls. Yet three years ago, Microsoft Corp.’s law and corporate affairs department was in dire need of a high-tech makeover. “Client requests were falling through cracks, nothing was tracked, it was totally unacceptable,” says Steven Levy, who had just started as the department’s director of information systems in 2002. The solution was as easy to spot as the irony: Microsoft needed to build a system to manage incoming work requests, to make sure that they were steered to the right people in the shortest possible time. But getting this system off the ground turned into a three-year battle for Levy, testing his technical skills and his salesmanship. “Law firms have a process that they call intake,” says Levy. “For a year, we tried to sell this to people in the law department, but it didn’t fly.” The problem: Intake sounded too firmlike. “People work in a law department because they don’t want to be in a firm,” says Levy. So he called it work flow, and tried to sell that for a year. No dice. Then Levy tweaked the name again, to “customer service tool” and took one more run at it. “Eventually we were referring to it as a client service tool, and with that, people started to take to it,” says Levy. Implementing the system was a challenge as well. Levy wasn’t happy with any of the commercial products that were available: It was too hard to set up the actual work flows — the instructions the system would follow depending on the type of request that came in. Microsoft had 30 initial work flows it wanted to implement. One would handle requests for advertising approvals, another would handle Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. Still others would cover intellectual property requests, immigration matters, moonlighting requests, and contracts. In each case, the system would need to know where the request had to go, send the appropriate party an e-mail notification, know where to reroute the request if the primary contact was out of the office, and track the requests through each stage of transit. Of course, being Microsoft does have its advantages; namely, there’s always a programmer lurking nearby. “We decided we’d build the system ourselves,” says Levy. The new intake — or, ahem, client service tool — cost approximately $250,000 and launched in March. Already, Levy says, it’s paying off. No longer are job requests forwarded to black holes. “I can see who has my request and what its status is at any time,” says Levy. “Now if I don’t get an answer, I can see who I need to call and bug them.”

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