Microsoft’s Vision and Strategy for Collaboration

ORLANDO, Fla. , Oct. 18, 2005 —Today’s workplaces and work teams can cut across skill sets, international borders, time zones and organizational boundaries. While such fluidity has its advantages – easy access to information and more agility to respond to business opportunities, for example – it also creates coordination challenges.

Microsoft’s integrated approach to collaboration software and services is key to establishing a competitive business edge in the modern work world and helping ensure people can easily connect to each other and to the information they need, wherever they are. That was the message that Microsoft’s Kurt DelBene, corporate vice president of the Office Server Group., shared today with business and IT professionals at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2005 – which showcases breakthrough technology products and services. To learn more about Microsoft’s collaboration vision and strategy, PressPass spoke with DelBene.

Kurt DelBene, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Office Server Group

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s vision around collaboration, today and in the future?

DelBene: The bottom line is, at Microsoft, we want to enable people to work together more effectively. To do this, we provide software and services that deliver a set of pervasive collaboration capabilities that specifically address today’s collaboration challenges in four critical areas: integrated communications, collaborative workspaces, access to information and people, and people-driven processes. Supporting seamless collaboration requires more than a set of applications – although that’s certainly critical; it also takes a set of services that people can draw on in the ways they work. Our solutions enable effective use of IT and the proper constructs for IT infrastructure, as well as business process redesign, business agility, and giving people flexible tools that meet their individual needs.

At the heart of our collaboration vision is the notion of making collaboration capabilities pervasive – whether that’s instant messaging (IM), e-mail, online conferencing, document or other types of workspace, business process or search. We’re not trying to change customers’ behavior. Our goal is to make the technology easy, seamless and flexible in the context of how people work today, regardless of whether they’re working on the Web, in a productivity suite like Microsoft Office, in line-of-business (LOB) applications like SAP or Siebel, or in custom built in-house applications or vertical-specific applications, and whether that work happens on a mobile device, a PC, a laptop, inside an organization’s firewall or outside it, or involves working with someone in another organization. These are the types of scenarios we think about when considering this notion of pervasiveness. There are other critical dimensions too, such as geography, the kind of work you actually do and the tools you use to do it. We believe delivering collaboration capabilities is important in all of these contexts.

PressPass: You mention the areas of challenge that Microsoft’s collaboration vision aims to address. Can you talk a bit about these?

DelBene: As I mentioned, there are four main sets of customer challenges that we – in conjunction with customers – are trying to solve.

First, with regard to integrated communications, information workers currently use many devices – landline phones, cellular phones, Smartphones, PDAs, desktops, laptops and Internet kiosks – to communicate and access information in different ways. These disconnected devices tend to create islands of data, and there’s often no way to move easily back and forth between these communication modalities. Microsoft collaboration simplifies and integrates the myriad of communication options available to teams and individuals and brings them together into an intuitive experience. This will help our customers make better, more informed business decisions faster, and share ideas and information immediately, regardless of location.

It’s also important to consider how productivity suffers when customers have to constantly change applications and devices to get a job done. Microsoft provides a single, holistic work environment to enable purposeful and focused action through the creation of collaborative workspaces — virtual workspaces that employees can set up themselves and access from any LOB application. They can use these workspaces to communicate with one another, to author and share documents, and to manage projects. Collaborative workspaces enable global teams to work together easily without adding additional overhead to the IT budget.

With the rise in volume of available information across industries and the increasing number of virtual teams, individuals need a way to identify and share important data as well as to connect to the right people at the right time. Microsoft portal and content management solutions provide fast, centralized access to information and people through a wide variety of content aggregation and content surfacing capabilities. In other words, individuals can find documents, contact information, data from LOB systems and other information in a single, integrated and intuitive environment that can be accessed both from a corporate environment and from any terminal via a browser.

Often, organizations spend time and money automating back-end business processes without thinking about how LOB applications fit into people-driven processes. The challenge is that a lot of those systems are not flexible or intuitive to how people access, manipulate and update that data. By putting a set of familiar tools at the front end, we can help people interact with rich data systems to make rapid business decisions, create and submit invoices, process orders, and respond to customer problems in an efficient manner.

PressPass: What integrated products, software and services support Microsoft’s collaboration strategy today and vision for the future? 

DelBene: The specific products map roughly to the four business challenges outlined above. I’ll mention a few of them. Microsoft Office Live Communications Server serves as an engine for rich presence information which is incorporated across the Microsoft Office System and can be integrated directly into LOB applications. The Microsoft Office Communicator client serves as a hub for integrated communications on the desktop giving users access to secure IM, presence awareness, integrated telephony videoconferencing and our Live Meeting web conferencing service all from one application interface. For virtual workspace software solutions, Microsoft offers Windows SharePoint Services and Groove Virtual Office to improve team performance by enabling people to share information and work together in a common environment that is optimized for specific work modes.

Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server includes SharePoint MySites, which enables workers to customize their own SharePoint sites. Microsoft Office InfoPath, another essential product, is our forms-based tool for getting data into and out of LOB systems. Other relevant products include Office, Microsoft BizTalk Server and increasingly Windows Workflow Foundation, which will be included in Windows SharePoint Services in the Office “12” timeframe [code name for the next generation of Microsoft Office]. On the infrastructure side, the .NET Framework provides a critical infrastructure layer that allows this set of capabilities to surface in a robust, seamless way across the set of contexts in which people work. And Exchange Server is the backbone of core communications across the workplace and is now leading the charge in taking e-mail to the mobile masses with seamless and secure mobile access to corporate messaging and calendaring data. It’s all of these products together that are at the heart of Microsoft collaboration.

PressPass: Can you talk about what role mobile devices and real-time collaboration play in Microsoft’s vision?

DelBene: We think mobile productivity is critical for today’s information workers. We want to make sure we can access business processes with LOB systems from a mobile device – whether it’s a Windows Mobile-based device or another mobile device – so, for instance, today we’re enabling mobility in the next release of SharePoint Products and Technologies. We’re also continuing to invest in making all of these collaboration capabilities and associated data much more available from a browser any time, anywhere. For example, with Microsoft Outlook Web Access you can already access your corporate e-mail, and we already have the ability to extend integrated communications capabilities to remote scenarios with Office Communicator Web Access currently in beta on the Web. In addition, we have publicly announced that we will ship an Office Communicator for RIM devices as well as Windows Mobile-based devices.

PressPass: It seems that a lot of vendors are talking about collaboration solutions right now. What comparative advantages does Microsoft’s collaboration approach offer over others?

DelBene: I think we are trying to help customers accomplish the same thing, but we approach the solution from different points of view. Microsoft has a 30-year history of understanding and addressing customer needs, developing easy-to-use productivity applications, delivering proven infrastructure-level integration of collaboration services, and innovating according to a deep commitment to standards-based interoperability. As a result, I believe Microsoft has a very distinctive set of offerings in this space. At Microsoft, we’re just more focused on individual workers — giving them pervasive tools that are natural and flexible in order to realize greater business value. Another area where we’re distinctive is in research investment. We have far and away the deepest investment in collaboration of any other vendor. For example, with Office alone we’re spending more than US$700 million for the Office “12” release. Add in other investments in collaboration technologies, and we’re spending upwards of a billion dollars of investment in the next wave of products.

PressPass: How are customers realizing value today with Microsoft’s collaboration solution? Can you provide a couple of examples? 

DelBene: Sure. I have some great success stories to highlight. In our experience, most collaboration problems or challenges occur within a specific business process. Because we work with each customer to address specific needs, we can then track the resulting value they realize from our technology. For example, at Nissan, a Microsoft collaboration solution helped the company reduce the time it takes to bring a new car model to market – from design through manufacturing to fulfillment. Additionally Nissan improved their customer satisfaction scores by using their solution to respond more quickly and accurately to customers’ post-purchase questions and needs. Another example is the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago where a Microsoft collaboration solution helped the hospital automate processes that used to require staff to spend valuable time administrating non value-add activities. Our collaboration tools also helped the hospital’s new doctors and nurses more easily consume information and take action more quickly.

PressPass: You mention Microsoft’s commitment to interoperability. What roles do interoperability and industry standards have in the company’s collaboration vision?

DelBene: We think we have an industry-leading solution around interoperability. Our commitment to XML as a default file standard for Office “12,” and our commitment to making that XML file format available across all Office editions free of royalties shows our commitment to allowing others to take advantage of industry standards. In addition, we are very committed to a service-oriented architecture, and we are working with partners and other leading companies in the industry to allow them to take advantage of some of the Microsoft collaboration capabilities, even if they are not working in a completely Microsoft environment. One recent example is the fact that Office “12” will support the native PDF format, thereby allowing people who are used to working in PDF to take advantage of all the collaborative capabilities that we will deliver in the next release of products.

PressPass: Can you talk about the role industry partners play in Microsoft’s collaboration vision?

DelBene: Partners are essential to our overall business model and this is also true in the collaboration space. We have the largest and most robust partner ecosystem around collaboration, which is critical because many of our customers require end-to-end solutions to get value out of our technology. In many cases, the platform we deliver is robust enough to meet their business needs out of the box. In other cases, our customers have very specific and specialized business requirements. In these instances, we work hard across the range of products I’ve discussed to ensure we have the right set of partners in place to build those vertical-specific or nuanced software extensions on our platform to deliver the desired business capabilities.

PressPass: Why is it so important to talk about Microsoft’s collaboration solutions right now? What’s the call to action for customers?

DelBene: We see very clearly that the world of work has changed in recent years – Bill Gates even talked about this fact earlier this year – and many of the emerging trends underscore the importance of having world-class collaboration capabilities to successfully achieving business objectives. For example, as we move from a world in which people mostly worked together within corporate boundaries to a global world in which they work across corporate boundaries, giving information workers the right enterprise collaboration tools is critical. Today, to address such scenarios and customer needs, Microsoft delivers a powerful, yet flexible, set of software and services that can be used to enable pervasive collaboration capabilities. In addition, we are busy innovating for the future and building off today’s platform to enable even more flexible access to the entire collaborative process in a single place. So, I believe we have a great solution for customers now and that they should keep an eye out for even more advancements in the next product releases.

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