Employee Readiness at Microsoft with Role Guide and Academy


Published: July 2013

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.

Microsoft employees need to stay aware of new company products, services, processes, and personnel-related developments in an organization that provides them massive amounts of information and training content from multiple sources. The SMSG Readiness team at Microsoft developed a suite of applications that delivers training and information to Microsoft employees according to employee roles and interests, centralizes and improves content access, and enables employees to share their expertise with others.


Intended Audience Products & Technologies

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  • Business decision makers
  • IT decision makers
  • Microsoft SharePoint 2010
  • Microsoft .NET Framework
  • The Windows 8 operating system


Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) is responsible for managing one of the largest Information Technology (IT) infrastructure environments in the world. It consists of 95,000 employees working in 107 countries worldwide.

The Sales, Marketing, and Services Group (SMSG) at Microsoft is responsible for servicing the needs of Microsoft customers and partners. It is essential that these 45,000 employees remain informed about products and services within their areas of expertise and, in turn, to educate and inform Microsoft customers about these products and services. The SMSG Readiness (SMSGR) team at Microsoft is responsible for ensuring that SMSG employees have all of the tools and knowledge they require to deliver significant value to customers and partners.


The SMSGR team must coordinate many different readiness scenarios within SMSG at Microsoft. Different SMSG employees require different levels of information about products and services at different times:

  • A technology evangelist needs to know features and capabilities of new products well before they launch.
  • An account manager needs to know pricing, availability, and SKU information right around launch time.
  • Technical support needs to know technical information about the operations after launch and as the product moves through its life cycle.

The learning environment at Microsoft is critical to the success of the enterprise. In order to support the large set of learning needs for diverse groups of employees, the SMSGR team has developed a set of roadmaps that define what each user needs to know about a specific product or service. Implementation of this roadmap is a complex and constantly changing process. Products change quickly, and employees must stay informed of changes that affect them. To support this environment, the SMSGR needs tools and information that can adapt to change quickly, without requiring significant effort from development and IT teams.


In order to simplify employee access to the learning environment, the SMSGR team has developed two tools that enable employee readiness: Role Guide and Academy.

Role Guide

Role Guide is the most important tool that the SMSGR team uses to manage and implement the products and services knowledge and skills roadmap for Microsoft employees. Role Guide is designed to get product learning into the hands of employees, based on their role. It is personalized for each individual, and provides only the information they require for their job.

By using Role Guide, employees can access a learning roadmap that outlines their role and the various Microsoft courseware and learning resources they can access. These resources consist of both online and in-person training curricula. Role Guide tracks the progress of an employee’s learning based on their roadmap. Role Guide also enables the employee, the employee’s manager, and the organization to monitor and manage an employee’s learning path. Role Guide is available to Microsoft employees through two key interfaces: a web application, based in Microsoft SharePoint 2010, and an app for the Windows 8 operating system.

Role Guide Web Application

The Role Guide web application is a dashboard for employee learning development. Employees can see their role, region, specializations, and other key information that identifies them within Microsoft. They can also see the list of courses accessible to them, based on their role, region, and specializations. This course list provides individual links to online courses, as well as information about in-person courses and regional events. The web application is customizable and flexible, and provides anywhere access to Role Guide for all employees of Microsoft. However, navigating the web application involves switching between several different web interfaces launched from Role Guide, and can involve having up to four browser windows open to access a single course.

Role Guide Windows 8 App

The SMSGR team wanted to provide a more streamlined Role Guide experience to Microsoft employees with the Windows 8 app. Using the Microsoft .NET Framework, the SMSGR team was able to bring the Windows 8 app experience to Role Guide users. The Role Guide Windows 8 app incorporates all of the functionality present in the web application in a touch-friendly, streamlined interface. The Windows 8 app encompasses all aspects of the Role Guide experience, and has overcome the multi-window shortcoming of the Role Guide web application.

The Windows 8 app provides a more immersive learning experience to the employee. One central interface means one central point of focus for employees. The SMSGR team designed the interface to give employees quick access to important information, like course progress and learning results. During the knowledge check process, which tests employees based on the information they’ve just received, the interface provides links back to course material for any questions they answered incorrectly. Employees can navigate content out of sequence, so they can access the most important topics to their project or needs as quickly as possible. Course progress is tracked in a very detailed manner, and is reported to the employee, as well as the employee’s manager. An employee can see how much time they’ve spent in a course, and how much time the next section of the course will require.

Role Guide is a critical part of the SMSGR team’s ability to keep employees up-to-date on what is most important to them in their role at Microsoft. With both the Role Guide web application, and the Role Guide Windows 8 app, employees have complete access to their learning roadmap from any environment.


Academy is the internal media sharing tool used at Microsoft. Academy provides Microsoft employees the ability to share content with each other on an internal, company-maintained social sharing platform. Instead of public facing social media solutions like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, Microsoft employees can share information that shouldn’t leave the organization on a protected, controlled, internal solution.

The foundational goal of Academy is sharing ideas. It enables all Microsoft employees publish their intellectual property and share their ideas and knowledge. Academy content spans a large number of topics and delivery types, from podcasts for the benefit of specific user groups within Microsoft, to company-wide strategy announcements from Microsoft executives. The SMSGR team also leverages Academy specifically as a learning platform for distributing media that trains employees on certain products and business scenarios as a complement to the Learning Management System. Academy holds approximately 100,000 different pieces of media. A secondary function of Academy is to connect employees to each other. The SMSGR team chose to intensify this function when it learned that members of the Microsoft sales staff were browsing content located in Academy to find subject matter experts who could help them deliver product information and presentations to potential customers. Similar to Role Guide, Academy exists in two interfaces: a SharePoint 2010 based web application, and a Windows 8 app.

Academy Web Application

The Academy web application – based in SharePoint 2010 – is designed to enable the organization of content across all departments within Microsoft within a single interface. Content on Academy is searchable according to included metadata, including the publishing user, department, content type, subject matter, and intended audience. With 100,000 pieces of media hosted on Academy, providing organization and accessibility are among its most important functions. Content on Academy is loosely curated into groups called Networks. These Networks maintain a high level organization of content within Academy.

The Academy web application interface utilizes the built-in uploading and management capabilities of SharePoint, enabling employees to publish their own content quickly and effectively, from any supported web browser. This effective metadata tool results in content automatically appearing under the appropriate network and categories based on metadata entered by the employee publishing the content. The media player within the Academy web application interface also provides recommendations of similar media that may interest someone viewing any specific piece of content.

Management of the content within Academy is built primarily around user-entered metadata, rather than manual organization or approval. Academy is a social platform on which everyone accountable for their content. Anonymous uploading is not allowed. Users are able to rate and comment on content, and the user base determines whether or not content is useful or popular. When integrated with highly available communication solutions such as Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Exchange Server, users have instant access to content publishers.

Access to content within Academy is not limited to use of the web application. SharePoint’s built-in Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feed capabilities enable users to monitor users or networks for new or updated content. Academy also tracks a user’s history, so that they can go back and find favorite videos if they want to re-watch them or share them with other users.

Academy Windows 8 App

In similar fashion to Role Guide, the SMSGR team wanted to provide an Academy experience that is optimized for touch on Windows 8 tablets. While the Academy web application did not suffer from some of the navigation issues that the Role Guide application did, the team still felt there were efficiencies in use to be gained. This resulted in the development of the Academy Windows 8 app.

Moving Forward with Role Guide and Academy

Both Role Guide and Academy fulfill their purposes within Microsoft. The SMSGR has begun the migration process from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013 on Microsoft Office 365®, to take advantage of the cloud-based infrastructure Office 365. The SMSGR team will also relocate eLearning and media content from internally managed servers to the Windows AzureTM platform, which means less time spent maintaining infrastructure and more time spent delivering innovative capabilities within Role Guide and Academy. Additionally, the Academy application is being seamlessly integrated with Yammer to encourage engagement across the enterprise. A Windows Phone app is being created for the Academy system that will enable consumption of media content while on the go.


Microsoft has realized several important benefits from the implementation of Role Guide and Academy:

  • Employees now have a single, easy to navigate portal in Role Guide where they can manage their learning. Users want to use the application.
  • The Human Resources department at Microsoft has a more complete view of employee learning progress, due to the increased adoption of Role Guide as a learning portal.
  • Microsoft has better control over intellectual property within their organization. Academy provides Microsoft employees the opportunity to share their ideas on a social platform without exposing important and potentially sensitive information on public social media sites.
  • Employees are able to quickly locate subject matter experts on specific topics by browsing content on Academy and engaging the owner of that content.
  • Employees can consume Role Guide and Academy content in the way that is works best for them. The presence of both a web application and a Windows 8 app gives employees the option to use the interface that best suits their needs, or the task that they are performing.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

The social, user-driven content that Role Guide and Academy provide deserve special consideration. The SMSGR team identified several best practices for this type of implementation:

  • Avoid over-managing user-submitted content. User ideas and content proliferate in the social environment when content is user-maintained.
  • Ensure that user-submitted content contains usable and relevant metadata. The ability to find content within a library and get what the user needs quickly is critical to adoption.
  • When developing a user-driven content library, ensure that quality content is available when the library launches. This will encourage use and set the standard for content submitted in the future.
  • Make user-driven content libraries accessible and easy to use. User experience design is paramount to adoption.
  • Develop a standard for app design and layout. A familiar interface across multiple applications will make users more comfortable with new applications.


Role Guide and Academy provide Microsoft with tools that employees can use to perform better in their roles. The social nature of both tools, and the integrated functionality provided by SharePoint, enable employees to help each other access the information and people that they need. Combined with the Windows 8 app experience, the Role Guide and Academy SharePoint instances provide an accessible, easy-to-use, and user-maintained learning environment that enables true self-service learning and readiness for Microsoft employees.

For More Information

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This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft, Lync, Office 365, SharePoint, and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.