By Lorenzo Gudino
For the past 11 years, Don Lionetti has led Microsoft’s vertical market of Native American tribes, businesses, governments, health care and Alaska Native Corporations. As a sales director, he manages the relationships between Microsoft and his tribal customers.
Lionetti saw the need for Microsoft to increase its efforts to serve tribal nations 12 years ago.
“Microsoft’s coverage for tribal nations was haphazard: good in some areas and nonexistent in other areas,” he says. Behind his efforts, the corporation now brings unique solutions to tribal nations in order to remedy their specific needs.
According to its statistics, 0.5 percent of Microsoft’s employees identify as American Indian/Alaska Native. In the midst of these numbers, a cohort called Native Americans at Microsoft creates a community within the corporation. Lionetti estimates 100 people are in this group and claims it is growing and flourishing. He is enthusiastic that these numbers will increase in the future. “We are trying to work with companies like AISES [the American Indian Science and Engineering Society], to hire more and more Native Americans,” he says.
Microsoft shows its commitment to inclusion by holding Native American Tribal Youth Days on its Redmond campus. Company leaders hope to give tribal youth an opportunity to experience a day working for a big tech company and advance their access to technology.
“I would love to look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Look we impacted 100 kids that got into the technology industry because things we were able to provide them when they were in middle school and high school,’” Lionetti says. Microsoft understands the importance of tribal youth and the immense investment all tribes put into their future.
Lionetti spoke more about Microsoft, his team and the vast possibilities of partnerships Microsoft offers to tribal nations:
Provide an overview of MICROSOFT’s vertical FOR Native American tribes and Alaska Native Corporations.
We have dedicated resources for tribes. We have our own tribal technology specialist dedicated to the tribes, we have a cloud specialist, called our modern workplace specialist, and that person is 100 percent dedicated to tribes. We have another expert for infrastructure and platform as a service dedicated to the tribes.
Some tribes enter into an extended support agreement for support. If they need help they pick up the phone and call Microsoft; we have about 20 to 30 tribes using that program. We have a dedicated technical account manager to service those tribal customers. What we have tried to do is create a team with resources that are dedicated to help tribes succeed.
Now Microsoft’s model is not only our own people, but we have an ecosystem of partners out there that help us provide services to tribal nations. There are a couple in particular that almost exclusively work with tribes; companies like Arctic IT and Planet Technologies have a dedicated tribal vertical within their companies.
So, when I come across a costumer that needs help in a certain technology area, we can plug in these partners to come in and help them. Sometimes Microsoft has investment funding to help people migrate to our technology. That is how we have developed this vertical market to serve the needs of the tribal nations.
How many tribal entities have you worked with up to date?
I would say over 300 and probably more like 400. Today we have around 300 tribal entities using the Microsoft volume licensing programs, meaning they have developed or entered into a relationship for their software needs. We call them enrollments where it allows a tribe to buy their foundational software for their businesses or government so that they can have the basic things like Office, Windows, email Exchange, databases, SQL servers, SharePoint and collaborative tools. It gives them the foundational agreement with Microsoft that they can license all of their users under this federal government pricing, which is the cheapest way to buy it. It gives them a vehicle to buy those things that they need to run their businesses or governments.
What are the major services that Microsoft can provide to tribal entities and how can Microsoft address their technological challenges?
I would first ask what challenges they face in their adoption and implementation of technology. I would like to hear from them, because every tribe is different. Some are very mature in their journey and they are at the cutting edge of technology. Other tribes are very much in the infancy of adopting technology. So. before I answer that question, I would need to ask them, “Where do you fall in the range of being a mature IT department within your organization to very immature and or right in the middle?” The majority are going to say they are probably not cutting edge but are on a scale from 1 to 10, a 6 or 7. That tells me that they got some skills with technology. At that point I might ask them a little bit about what they are doing for collaboration and handling the ability to get technology in the hands of the constituents? “How are you helping them get access to technology? Do you have issues with broadband out to all of your rural communities? Is that an issue?”
I would start with some of those basic questions because we have 100 different solutions that Microsoft can bring to the table. Until I understand a little more about the client’s current state and their desired state, then I can start plugging in some ideas on some things we might have done with other tribal nations.
What are some of the key industries you are helping tribes with?
As we all know the tribal government exists to provide services to tribal members. When we are meeting with tribes, we are talking about how are we helping social services, the education department, the health care department? How are we helping the law enforcement and the executive staff, meaning the elected leaders? One area is enrollment. Every tribe manages the enrollment of the tribal members. So many tribes have either home built systems or archaic older systems and we have a great solution with Microsoft technology that allows us to take one holistic view of a tribal member and his family. If you go to a different department, tribal employees do not know what services you might have gotten from another department. Well, with this type of technology, you have one view of the tribal member. Every department within the tribal government can see, “OK, John Smith was in last week over at the social services getting some help over there. This week he is over here at the education department for his children to enroll them in school, and next week he might be over at the housing department.” This way there is one record of the tribal member. And it also can do things like manage any per capita distribution that the tribe is giving out to tribal members. There is a lot of solutions we bring that are specific to tribal government.
When I walk across the street or down the road and go meet with the IT staff at the tribal casino, we are talking about how are we helping them get more butts in the seat. How are we analyzing the player data; using business intelligence tools to say, “OK this group of customers in this area spent this much money.” Things like predictive analytics and business intelligence can help the casino make better decisions. It is a different conversation when we go talk to a tribal business depending on what that business is versus the tribal government. Then you look at other businesses that tribes’ have. As an example, there is a tribe in Oregon, the Confederated Tribe of Umatilla Indian Reservation. They have a company called Cayuse Technologies. They set up a 400-person tech support call center, help desk operation on the reservation and that is creating 400 jobs. They are doing work for companies on that site and they use Microsoft technology for that environment. So, we try to help out not just tribes and their casinos, but our goal is to help tribes grow their businesses beyond gaming or with ideas to diversify those businesses. And helping them grow to create more jobs and at the end of the day create more profits back to the tribe.
What are some of the most common challenges in terms of technology that Microsoft can address for the tribes?
I would say one is business analytics. Every department within a tribe, whether it is the government, gaming or health care, has to deal with all the data out there today and data is proliferating at a crazy rate. The statistic is like Internet data doubles every month; it is an incredible pace. I know tribes are struggling with that same problem: There is so much data being created. How do you manage it, how do you analyze it, how do you take action upon all of that data? So, all of this data is being collected and Microsoft has tools that allows them to analyze the data, let them make better decisions from that data, and we are even starting to get into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Overall what do tribes gain from working with Microsoft and your team?
First of all, they gain a true strategic partner. Someone who is not just going to sell them something, walk away and say good luck with it. We are here to help them be successful with our products. Every tribe is using our products. Microsoft has a ubiquitous brand and everybody uses Office, PowerPoint and Excel. So, they are using our products already, but we would love to have deeper and more strategic relationships. I think the No. 1 thing they gain with working with our team is they get a face to the name. They are not just getting a copy of Office and running off into the sunset.
What they can gain from our team is, “How can I better use that product? How can I take the capabilities of the product to its fullest extent?” What I see, and even I am guilty of this, I probably only use 50 percent of the power of all the things you can do in Office.
We have tons of training both online training and on-demand training that we can provide to help people better use our tools. The No. 1 thing I think we can bring to the table is a more strategic partnership rather than just buying that product and figuring it out on your own. Partner with us and we can help you better utilize and get the full advantage of the investments you are making in Microsoft. ↵