Business

Microsoft says new Cambridge center will help clients

Microsoft’s facility at One Cambridge Center is not set up like a typical office. Mobile workers don’t have desks. There are lockers for them to store their stuff, and they can set up at empty work stations. The phone system is also nontraditional.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Microsoft’s facility at One Cambridge Center is not set up like a typical office. Mobile workers don’t have desks. There are lockers for them to store their stuff, and they can set up at empty work stations. The phone system is also nontraditional.

To demonstrate the latest innovations from Microsoft Corp., you’d need a bus stop, a business office, and a living room. So the giant software company built simulated versions of all three inside a large space at its new facility in Cambridge.

It’s called the Envisioning Center, a cross between a staging area and tech lab where company engineers and customers try out Microsoft software in multiple environments, ranging from a home office to a doctor’s office.

On Thursday, Microsoft officials hosted an event to introduce the Envisioning Center and its other new digs at One Cambridge Center, where the company renovated seven floors and 123,000 square feet of space for about 400 workers, most of whom were relocated from a site in Waltham.

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“It was pretty extraordinary,” said Governor Deval Patrick after touring the new facility. “There’s some incredibly exciting things happening here.”

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The new offices are also within easy walking distance of Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center at One Memorial Drive, affectionately nicknamed the NERD Center.

Craig Hodges, Microsoft’s general manager for the northeastern United States, said the company centralized in Kendall Square “to be in the center of innovation.” Neighbors such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard ­University produce hundreds of superb computer scientists and engineers, and Microsoft is ­eager to get hold of them.

“This is going to allow us to attract and retain talent,” ­Hodges said.

The new facility is largely to help Microsoft’s corporate customers, by developing specialized computing solutions tailored to their specific needs. For example, the staged doctor’s ­office allows Microsoft to demonstrate an advanced medical records management system that runs on a tabletop computer screen. Patients would have plastic cards with their medical information embedded on microchips. A doctor can swipe the card across the screen, opening up the patient’s detailed medical history, right down to X-ray images.

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One such Microsoft customer, State Street Corp., thinks the move to Cambridge will boost the two companies’ relationship.

“It’s going to add a tremendous amount of value to the work we do with Microsoft,” said State Street senior vice president Kevin Sullivan. “The Waltham center has been great for us . . . but we’re looking forward to coming here.”

The new site’s working environment is quite different from a typical office. For one there are no telephones — at least not the traditional kind. Instead workers rely on a “unified communication” system that routes voice calls over the same network used for ­data traffic. As a result, calls can be made or received through a worker’s personal cellphone, but also through a desktop or laptop computer, or through a tablet computer.

And many employees won’t even have their owns desks, as they will spend much of their time in the field, working with Microsoft’s customers. When they’re in the new office, these workers will stash their belongings in lockers and set up their laptops at any unoccupied workspace.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
The new Microsoft facility in Kendall Square puts the company close to MIT and Harvard, which produce computer scientists and engineers that Microsoft is interested in.

The system also tracks the status and location of all employees. By glancing at his screen, a worker can tell whether a colleague is in the office or on the road, and whether he or she is available for a call.

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At the event Thursday, ­Microsoft technology architect Chad Gronbach demonstrated the unified communication system to the governor, showing Patrick how to quickly set up a conference call among multiple phones, tablets, and computers.

Microsoft’s popular Kinect motion-control device was invented for use in playing video games, but at the grand opening, MIT and Harvard students showed off a host of new applications for Kinect. Tim Fu, a student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, demonstrated Home Team, a Kinect-based device for use by people undergoing physical therapy. By tracking the patient’s movements, the Kinect sensor tracks whether each exercise is performed correctly.

“It inserts a level of accountability,” Fu said.

Doctoral student Stephanie Gil danced in front of her ­Kinect-equipped computer while software she had written translated her body motions into music. The governor stood well to one side during the demonstration, and declined an offer to join in. “That’s definitely off the record,” he joked.

But Patrick said the Kinect demonstration of new uses of technology made for video games boded well for Massachusetts’ already substantial gaming sector.

“We have a very strong gaming community here in the Commonwealth,” Patrick said. “To see it scale up and out . . . to health care and other solutions is really fun stuff.”

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.