The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Cloud Industry Executive of the Year (Public Company) finalist Tom Keane, who’s corporate vice president and general manager of Microsoft Azure Global. Here, he talks key achievements, proud organizational moments, career advice and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
I’m particularly proud of the work my team and I have done for the U.S. government over the last couple of years. Since January 2020, we have launched — and achieved accreditation for — Azure Government Secret and Azure Government Top Secret cloud regions. Together, with our Azure Government cloud, we now support the full spectrum of government data in the United States while meeting the most fundamental customer promises.
Simultaneously, our team developed and launched a portfolio of edge devices that bring cloud capabilities to the farthest reaches of the world — critical to supporting missions from national security to disaster response efforts.
Last but not least, we announced in February that we are working with ten companies on a technology solution for the secure design of microelectronics. The new service will support the effort by the Defense Department to catalyze the U.S. microelectronics manufacturing base and support emerging technology priorities like artificial intelligence, 5G communications and quantum computing.
Our work is actively changing the cloud computing landscape for U.S. government customers, providing a choice among hyperscale cloud providers for any government workload, solving critical problems for those agencies while ensuring the highest degree of security and compliance for national security agencies’ most sensitive data.
What has made you successful in your current role?
My work demands that I strike a balance between being a technical specialist and business leader. As a technologist, I’ve succeeded by being able to break down big, hard challenges into manageable chunks. Technology is hard! It moves so fast we’re always learning how to keep up with the pace and increasing complexity of technology itself.
The trick is to not get overwhelmed but instead be systemic and structured in your thinking to address each challenge. So, you focus sharply on the details. You unpack challenges for your team, and bottom-out problems by asking precise questions. At that point, your role is to define the boundaries and then drive accountability and ownership. You step back so the team can rapidly iterate and build, and learn through the process.
On the other side of the ledger, I’ve focused as a business leader on creating conditions that allow team members to perform at their best. My role is to create an organizational culture in which people feel empowered to solve problems for our customers and unlock the opportunities through technology. By embracing collaboration across our organization — and across all of Microsoft — my team and I believe that no task is too big, and no challenge too complex to solve.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
Almost two years ago, we started on an engineering process designed to explicitly meet the needs of U.S. government customers within the Department of Defense and intelligence community. Since then, over 16,000 Microsoft engineers in over 500 teams have been building cloud capabilities for this audience, and we recently just shipped our 10th engineering release.
We take this same level of commitment to work for customers around the world. What is driving Microsoft’s engineering, and where we are putting our resources, is mission. My organization is focused every day on delivering the solutions so that every customer, in every industry, and every country can adopt Azure to further their mission.
Take one example — expanding the footprint of Microsoft Azure. As the team responsible for expanding Azure’s planetary infrastructure, I’m incredibly proud of the fact that over the course of 11 years, Microsoft Azure has announced 65 regions in 34 countries. This infrastructure supports 3 million customers across 63 industries worldwide.
We’ve also been busy in space. We launched Azure Orbital, a ground station as a service product, and our first product in the Azure Orbital family. Azure Orbital supports two scenarios: Earth observation and communications. We do this through software, which is a departure from the traditional approach taken by others. If you go and look at a ground station today, you you’ll see racks and racks of hardware. They are expensive hardware-based modems that are typically poorly utilized. We’re moving all of that into software to be more efficient and more agile.
I’m proud of the examples I just mentioned because they illustrate the approach that my team and I take to realizing our mission: we prioritize moving fast — even in the face of uncertainty — so that we can deliver for our customers and, empower them to make complex decisions in a secure and reliable way.
What are your primary focuses going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Having worked in technology for more than 20 years, it’s been notable to see how our customers’ use of cloud has evolved — especially in the last couple of years. Today, the dialogue has shifted to focus much more deeply on privacy, security and the ability to apply the best-of-breed commercial technology to an organization’s most critical workloads.
To that end, my organization and I have made commitments — that we call Enterprise Promises — that enable all customers to host the most critical, complex and regulated workloads on Microsoft Azure.
These promises ensure that their data and workloads are always secure, always monitored, always available, trusted and compliant. We also make explicit promises around how 3rd party products work on our platform.
This concept is critically important to how our largest customers adopt cloud – including our government customers. Our Enterprise Promises map to solution areas, and extend across our application development stack, our business applications, Microsoft 365, data and artificial intelligence and beyond. So, the work we are doing truly does span across all of Microsoft.
In addition to these fundamental promises, my team and I have spent a lot of time thinking about how we empower customers in government to serve their missions. Let me give you just one example: We’ve been doing a lot of work to make Microsoft Azure great for Special Access Programs. We’ve been launching platform capabilities and products.
A good example of a platform capability is attribute-based access controls. Attribute-based access controls is an authorization strategy that defines access levels based on attributes associated with security principals, resources, requests, and environment. This is not easy to build. But once leveraged by a customer, attribute-based access can flow through the Microsoft stack – from Office to Teams to Dynamics.
This is what makes our cloud special — and is how government will be able to serve its missions more effectively in the future. Whether you are a mission owner, or you are building tools to support mission owners, you will have access to a very rich set of cloud capabilities, available on the fabric of your choice, easy to launch in the enclave of your choice, with the permissions you choose, and extending across the technology that your team already uses to serve your mission.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Everyone individual’s career journey is unique, and it is never a straight line from beginning to end. I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the twists and turns in my own career. That said, I’ve observed a few behaviors that have consistently helped me navigate my own unique journey.
- Be adaptable. Technologists are in many ways the vanguard — our careers are defined by tackling new and unique challenges. As a result, it’s important to not have a fixed mindset, and continue to grow and learn new skills. What made you successful in the past may not be the skills you need to take the next step in your career.
- Be resilient. You will face challenges in your career — and you will need to call on others for help in order to take the next step. So, start early, and embrace the idea that you are more resilient — and your organization is more resilient when you share your knowledge and experience freely. By doing so, you will not only build an organization that is bigger than any one person, but you will create new opportunities for you as an individual to grow.
- Be practical. They say the “devil is in the details” and that is especially true when building new software, or even running an organization. I always try to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks — and identify the concrete solutions that I can deliver to provide value to our teams and our customers.