Hi Nicki. Can you tell us a bit about your role – what’s a Microsoft Business Manager? What does a typical day look like?
Sure! Our relationship with Microsoft is strategically very important to Ascent and we’ve worked closely together on some brilliant transformative customer projects, combining our data and software expertise with the power of the Azure platform. Having a formal business plan in place and a role like mine dedicated to optimising our relationship with the Microsoft teams helps us create the most effective customer outcomes – it’s all about making their engagement with us as straightforward and valuable as possible. And to that end, I get to work across multiple business units within both businesses, from technical teams to commercial and marketing.
My role is important because we are (rightly!) quite ambitious about building our profile with Microsoft: we know the partner ecosystem is world-class and we want to be acknowledged as the best of the best. So my North Star is really clear: everything I do is geared to put Ascent in the best position to win Microsoft Partner of the Year 2023/2024, which is a huge and exciting challenge.
I love my job because (and everyone says this but it’s completely true) no two days are ever the same! I need to be on my toes and always ready to switch contexts, working with a wide variety of different collaborators and perspectives. And when I need someone to bounce ideas or plans off, I have my faithful home office dog, Bosco, who provides useful feedback and steer on a daily basis.
When did your relationship with Microsoft start and why is it so important to you?
I come from a Sports Science background and after a sabbatical working on London 2012, I decided it was time for a change of direction to find the same zest for innovation and performance as I had working with Team GB. I was actually told I would find the technology industry boring – in truth, it’s been one of the most exciting journeys in my career alongside the Olympics and Paralympics!
I started out in tech in a role where I was given the opportunity to manage a number of vendor alliances. And quite quickly that became an exclusive focus on driving the Microsoft relationship as the value back to the business was vast. Immersing myself in the Microsoft world for the first time was like learning a whole new language (at that stage they had their own Microsoft Acronym Dictionary…) but within a short space of time I began to really understand the dynamics and the potential - and built some great relationships with some amazing people. Every role I have had since has been part of their partner/ ISV ecosystem!
For me, Microsoft is more than a technology business: they understand better than most that it’s about how technology can be leveraged to create meaningful change. Working with Microsoft as part of their partner ecosystem has opened many doors for me, including being a guest at the House of Commons debating Challenge & Change for Women in Leadership, being profiled by IDC as part their Women in Tech series for International Women’s Day and being a finalist in a number of awards, including Women in Business and CRN Women of the Channel.
Microsoft has also raised the bar globally in terms of its sustainability commitments – which is another area you will hear more from me about as Ascent’s journey unfolds. I can’t overstate my passion for wanting to make a difference - and working with Microsoft as part of the forward-thinking Ascent team has given me an ideal platform to do this. We recently signed up to their Partner Pledge, which is a manifestation of our commitment to prioritising Sustainability, Mental Wellbeing, Digital Skills and Women in Digital – all subject areas that are important to me.
What drew you to Ascent initially – and how did you know you had made the right decision?
Apart from their strong Microsoft alliance, it has to be their out-and-out ambition – it brought out the competitive streak in me! My sporting self, as a former medalist for Great Britain and 6th British woman in the London Marathon, is naturally goal-driven, and from Day 1 I was attracted by Ascent’s mission and purpose - and their focus on helping customers ‘do something new, or do something better ‘, especially as we build back from the pandemic. That’s something that really resonates with me: as an athlete I am always looking at how I can perform better tomorrow than I am today.
As a business, Ascent truly lives and breathes its core values - empathy, energy and audacity - which has been so refreshing. We bring new concepts and ideas to life for our customers, which is a huge responsibility that we don’t take lightly, so we are continuously learning and improving. Ascent is never satisfied with ‘good enough’ - and that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.
So what are you working on now?
I’ve got lots of exciting projects on at the moment as part of our joint plan and the pace is only building. Examples include:
Performance: securing the first of many Advanced Specialisations, building industry-aligned data and software (App/Dev) offerings and supporting new partner programs like App Driven Innovation with CosmosDB.
Customer success: working with our Marketing team and building out a portfolio of compelling customer stories.
Cultural enhancement: driving change in our business that leverages the Partner Pledge, including heading up our Mental Wellbeing practice and participating in our Women in Digital group.
Sustainability: aligning with Microsoft and their G500 initiative to move the needle with the environmental impact of green technology solutions whilst driving internal initiatives in this area.
Tell us about your journey from athletics to technology.
My mantra is #BetterNeverStops and firmly believe transferring this from my athletic background into my journey in technology has accelerated my career development and characterises the relationship I have now with Microsoft.
The dedication, determination and commitment I have to my training flows naturally into my work ethic. For me, without passion, there is no point, and I am hugely passionate about being a force for good within Women in Sport as well as using technology to help make the world a better place.
Pushing boundaries is what drives me, and right now in my sporting life I am working on becoming a leading female ultra-runner (running 100km at weekends is perfectly normal, right…?). And that aspiration to achieve more complements my day job perfectly: both individually and with Ascent, I/we will continue to push for change because balancing people, profit and planet is – and should be - at the heart of every business. I’m really excited to be part of the Ascent team at this point in its evolution, helping to drive business with purpose for our customers in 2021 and beyond.