Q&A: Microsoft and Business Applications: Putting People First

REDMOND, Wash. , Sept. 19, 2005 – Microsoft recently hosted its first Business Summit, a one-day, worldwide event that launched the company’s vision for putting people at the heart of technology and how a role-based approach to software development, combined with a targeted customer engagement model, will let Microsoft and its partners to deliver on this vision.

James Utzschneider, General Manager, Product Marketing, Microsoft Business Solutions Group

To learn more about Microsoft’s view on the how the business applications market is evolving, its impact on customers and Microsoft’s role in this space, PressPass spoke with James Utzschneider, general manager, Product Marketing, Microsoft Business Solutions Group. Since 2004, Utzschneider has been responsible for defining and articulating Microsoft’s strategy for midsize companies and divisions of larger enterprises, which includes the integration of the Microsoft Business Solutions product road map throughout the company.

PressPass: What’s Microsoft’s view of the business application market?

James Utzschneider: We believe the software industry has forced two worlds onto people looking for solutions to run their businesses. One world involves the entire category of business process automation: enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management. These types of products were introduced 10 to15 years ago but haven’t yet delivered on their promise to transform how businesses work due to their inflexible architectures and complex user interfaces. Certainly these products today are the backbone of many companies, but in general most business people don’t love this category – they view it more as a necessary evil. The other world involves personal productivity software – best characterized by Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office – that most people use on a daily basis to do their jobs.

Microsoft’s mission is to combine these two worlds of software. We plan to do for company productivity over the course of the next decade what we did for individual productivity in the 90’s. Doing so will help our customers, including improving customer relationships, generating world-class product and service leadership, achieving operational excellence, and forging strong business connections with customers and partners.

PressPass: How does Microsoft see the market emerging, and who does Microsoft consider its key competitors?

Utzschneider: Today’s market, increasingly, is characterized by consolidation. That puts business customers in a position where they need to closely examine their options when it comes to making an IT investment that will best serve them in the long term. Some of our competitors in the business applications marketplace, such as Oracle and SAP, are currently introducing products where the emphasis is still first and foremost on the technology, with the people in second place.

At Microsoft we’re flipping that equation upside-down and instead taking into consideration the people and the roles that are behind the success of a midsize business and then developing technology and services that reflect them. The right platform for the midsize segment will integrate processes and be very focused on the IT generalist who makes it all work.

PressPass: Speaking of competitors, Oracle recently announced the acquisition of Siebel. What impact do you expect that to have on Microsoft and on the market overall?

Utzschneider: First of all, Oracle certainly shares our view about the importance of integration. In fact, Oracle is arguing that the vendor with the best “integrated stack” will win, because customers are looking for integrated solutions that deliver value. It’s actually funny, because if you look at Oracle’s own presentation to investors from last week when they announced the Siebel acquisition, they include a slide with a side-by-side comparison of the software stacks from Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft. The slide clearly shows that Microsoft has the best, most complete integration of software from application solution down to operating system. So we think we are on to something.

But for customers, this integration is meaningless if it exists only on a slide. It has to manifest itself in how people interact with the solution on a daily basis. The whole point is to design business software that maps to the way people really work. That is why we are getting such a positive response to our Microsoft Dynamics strategy of delivering business applications with a role-based approach based on deep integration with Microsoft Office.

Look at our Microsoft CRM product. Most sales people use Microsoft Outlook for their contacts, calendar, tasks, and email. So with Microsoft CRM we designed sales processes and reports directly into Microsoft Outlook so that sales people can be productive with a software approach that is familiar and easy to use.

Internally at Microsoft, we are a Siebel shop and have been for five or six years. But at our annual sales conference this past summer, we unveiled the new version of Microsoft CRM to 10,000 of our sales people and [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer asked them if they wanted to use it. The applause was deafening, as loud as the applause for Microsoft Vista. So Microsoft now has 20 internal projects where we are deploying Microsoft CRM across the company. We think this phenomenon will occur at other Siebel customers, where managers working in departments, branch offices and subsidiaries of enterprises will ask themselves “what is the best way for us to get our sales people productive NOW” and they will turn to Microsoft.

PressPass: What are some of the challenges faced by today’s midsize businesses and divisions of larger enterprises?

Utzschneider: Our customers have told us that one of their biggest challenges is the increased expectations of their own customers. Other challenges include globalization, increased and complex regulations, 24×7 customer demand, constantly changing technology, and resource constraints. For midsize businesses in particular, those resource constraints come in the form of cash and people. On the financial side, midsize businesses are often forced to make trade-offs between investing in new equipment, new people, or new technology. They often can’t afford a lot of expensive consultants to help with critical aspects such as integration. From an IT perspective, midsize businesses in particular typically have between one and five IT generalists dealing with all of the IT complexity. Since they don’t have the specialized IT roles of large enterprises, they need the power of the enterprises in their technology – but in a simple and integrated fashion. For divisions of larger enterprises, one of the main challenges is having technology that can integrate easily and affordably with their company’s central system. The technologies and related services developed by Microsoft and its worldwide network of industry partners have addressed those concerns.

PressPass: How did Microsoft determine what businesses expect from their technology?

Utzschneider: We have heard from customers that they want affordable, adaptable solutions that are easy to use. For the IT professional, having a clear roadmap for the products they support and maintain is a key priority. This is not happening today, as technology vendors are on acquisition sprees and the R&D and enhancements on the acquired products falls by the wayside, hurting customers and their investments. We also believe it’s critically important to focus on the customer. As part of a next-generation application research project, we sent teams of developers and program managers around the world, where they conducted thousands of interviews with all types of roles. We did hundreds of thorough site visits where we followed process flows, collected reports and photographed desktops. We generated thousands of pages of transcripts. And throughout all of this research, a single theme emerged: people consistently asked us why they can’t get software that works the way they really work and that looks like their company – this is our focus with Microsoft Dynamics, which will provide customers with a long-term value superior to what’s offered in the marketplace today.

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