Q&A: “People-Ready Business”: What Microsoft’s Vision for Business Means for Mid-Market Customers

REDMOND, Wash., March 21, 2006— With so many software offerings vying to meet their business needs, why should mid-market customers choose a Microsoft solution?

The answer, according to Microsoft: Because companies excel when they empower their people to drive the business forward, and Microsoft software puts people front and center. Helping mid-market customers understand the value that Microsoft brings to bear on their top- and bottom-line business results is a key reason Microsoft last week launched its “People-Ready Business” initiative — a new approach that puts people at the center of the business equation.

Some mid-market businesses say they’re already reaping the benefits of being “people ready,” thanks to integrated Microsoft solutions they have deployed in place of heterogeneous IT systems that disempowered employees. Cases in point: Edgewood, N.Y.-based Qosina Corp., which supplies disposable components to the medical and pharmaceutical industries; and Toronto-based Webcom Limited, a leading book manufacturer specializing in custom orders and e-printing technologies.

To learn more about what Microsoft’s “People-Ready Business” initiative means for mid-market customers and the programs and tools Microsoft is offering to help make more customers “people ready,” PressPass spoke with John Lauer, Microsoft vice president, Worldwide Midmarket Small and Midsize Solutions & Partner Group;

Mark Delvecchio, IT and ERP business manager at Webcom; Gerry Quinn, chief operating officer at Qosina; and Richard Iwasa, lead architect at Ideaca — the Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that helped Webcom implement its Microsoft solution.

PressPass: What is the “People-Ready Business” initiative and what does it mean for mid-market customers?

Lauer: People-ready business is Microsoft’s new vision for how software can drive the modern business, including mid-market and enterprise business customers. Microsoft and its partners are taking this new approach to helping businesses bridge the gap between their greatest asset — people — and the technology required to realize better business performance.

PressPass: What is a “People-Ready Business”?

Lauer: A people-ready business gives its people the support, the resources, the permission and the tools they need to drive business success — for example, by solving business problems decisively and quickly, or by contacting and serving customers instantly . The right software to enable the people-ready business should meet four criteria: 1) be familiar and easy to use, 2) be widely used and supported, 3) be easy to integrate and connect, and 4) be innovative and continually evolving to meet customer needs. We offer a number of programs and tools to help businesses become people ready, such as the Windows Server System Assessment and Deployment Solution for midsize businesses and a recently launched online Midsize Business Center, which I’ll describe in more detail later. Qosina and Webcom are great examples of people-ready businesses because they have unlocked the power of software and provided their people with the tools that empower them to become ultimate drivers of business success.

Quinn: In the past five years we have implemented two Microsoft applications at Qosina — Microsoft Great Plains and Microsoft Customer Relationship Management (CRM) — that have greatly empowered our employees and boosted our bottom line. The customer service aspect of what we do is absolutely critical, both at Qosina and our other company, Qosmedix, which supplies disposables such as applicators, testers and samplers for the cosmetic industry. We provide a broad spectrum of products and we provide them fast, so we view any delay as a delay in customer service. We used to run an antiquated DOS-based CRM solution called Telemagic and five different customer-centric databases with all sorts of outdated and redundant data in them, which meant that our customer service reps often had to scramble to find the right information while a customer waited on the phone. All our employees were sick of missing sales opportunities, of rekeying customer data or of losing money on catalogues sent to the wrong people.

The Microsoft CRM solution provided the customer management we needed. Using SQL Server 2000, we were able to eliminate the five databases in one step. Our employees are much more efficient as a result. For example, CRM has automated the order sample process, so we only need one person to input the sample order, after which the system takes over and sends the order in a queue for the two pickers to pick up from the computer in the sample room. CRM automatically prints out the labels and thank-you letters and schedules a follow up call in two weeks. Now we can get a sample out the door 20 percent faster — 50 to 70 times a day. Last year, our sales were US$22 million, up from $11.5 million five years earlier.

Delvecchio: We also had a very inefficient IT system originally — 18 different systems, in fact — which contributed to a disconnected, manual and inefficient workflow. We wanted a single IT platform to support integrated operations. Working with our partner, Ideaca, we retired our AS/400 solution and deployed what later became an award-winning integrated job management solution based on Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, Microsoft Business Solutions Navision, Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 and the Microsoft Windows 2003 Server System. We dubbed it Production Order Estimating Management (POEM). POEM automates virtually all business processes from order entry to pricing to manufacturing.

The entire lifecycle of a book’s production is impacted by the new solution, which empowers our employees to work more efficiently and provide better customer service. We are seeing a 33 percent improvement in the automation of job production workflow. We’re also cutting costs, improving customer service and expanding our competitive edge in an increasingly challenging marketplace. We can provide better customer service with more than 80 percent of all quotations produced in minutes instead of weeks. I don’t know of any of our competitors that can get pricing as quickly as we can. Our customers are thrilled. They get some numbers back right away to work on their own budgets without having to do the number-crunching themselves.

PressPass: What is Microsoft doing to make this vision real for business?

Lauer: We have spent over $12 billion in research and development and we’re also investing $500 million this year in the form of a global marketing and sales campaign that communicates the people-ready business vision to customers worldwide and also helps connect the vision to innovative offerings available in the next 12-18 months, including Microsoft Office 2007, Exchange Server, and Microsoft Windows Vista — the next version of the Windows Server operating system. In addition, we are implementing new financing options to help make Microsoft solutions more affordable for mid-market customers. For example, last fall we announced the Exchange 2003 Accelerator campaign for Exchange 5.5 customers, which includes Windows Server and Exchange Server licenses at 30 percent off in both Select and Open Licensing programs. We will be announcing additional financing options around Microsoft Office 2007 in the April timeframe.

PressPass: What is the role of industry partners in helping to make more customers people ready?

Lauer: We are mobilizing an entire ecosystem of 640,000 Microsoft partners around the world to help customers assess their status and next steps for becoming people ready and determine which solutions are best and most relevant to their needs. To that end, Microsoft is introducing a number of programs and tools for partners. For example, we’re launching the Windows Server System Assessment and Deployment Solution, which is designed to help significantly reduce the cost and risk associated with assessment, migration and deployment of Windows Server System infrastructure projects in midsize businesses. It’s available to all registered, certified and gold certified partners.

For a medium-sized network, this tool can reduce the time it takes to compile data on the server and PC assets from several hours to one or two. This benefits the partner by reducing the number of unknowns, and it benefits the customer by reducing the overhead on their project. The customer also receives a written summary of their current network, which can be used as a launching point for discussions around security, asset management, TCO and new technologies that may benefit the customer. The tool benefits any customer that isn’t sure of their entire list of assets, how secure their network is or how to take the next step to advance their infrastructure. Once the current state of the network is understood, the deployment part of the solution gives guidance on how to move to a current platform of operating systems and applications, integrating Microsoft’s best practices for the migration.

PressPass: How helpful was it to work with a partner to implement the new solution?

Delvecchio: We couldn’t have done it without Ideaca. At the time we had one internal developer, so we would never have been able to do this on our own. Our IT staff is still small — two full-time developers, one part-time developer, a help-desk person and three networking people. I don’t have a flexible developer workforce that I can just pull and send home again, so Ideaca was invaluable.

Quinn: Our experience working with Business Solution Partners was excellent. We used them heavily and the results were good. Some customization was needed for the out-of-the-box solution, and they got an understanding of the way we work to make the software fit our processes as much as our processes fit the software. Now we’re looking to integrate our Web site with the Great Plains and CRM solutions. We’re also evaluating Live Communications Server and SharePoint Portal Server.

PressPass: What particular challenges did partners encounter in implementing the Microsoft solution, and how did they overcome them?

Iwasa: The Webcom project presented a number of challenges, due primarily to the highly intricate and complex business processes involved in delivering the finished product to each customer. Visual Studio .NET provided the flexibility to design a robust, extensible business layer to encapsulate Webcom’s business rules. Webcom’s heterogeneous technical environment utilized an AS/400, ASP Web sites, DB/2 databases and Microsoft Navision. The .NET Framework, combined with SQL Server, allowed us to quickly build interfaces to all of Webcom’s systems, enabling POEM to integrate seamlessly.

PressPass: In your view, what are some of the benefits for mid-market customers?

Iwasa: There are several. Tools such as Visual Studio .NET and SQL Server minimize the number of challenges involved in building and deploying business solutions, and they reduce the amount of time required for configuration, allowing more time to be spent on business problems and issues. The ASP.NET framework facilitated rapid responses to customer requests and easier management of Web pages as a user interface. The high degree of interoperability between the tools and applications in the Microsoft stack, from Microsoft Office and ASP.NET on the front end to SQL Server on the back end, allows us to leverage our collective knowledge and experience in the Microsoft ecosystem.

PressPass: Any other partner tools or programs to help make mid-market customers more people ready?

Lauer: Another useful tool is the Partner Solution Profiler, which allows partners to describe their company’s targeted solutions for the mid-market and gain exposure to customers and other Microsoft partners through several online systems. This tool is now available on the People-Ready business homepage, Midsize Business Center and on the Partner Learning Center site. Also on the Microsoft Partner Web site, partners can receive readiness training for people-ready business. Finally, there is also a new demonstration platform featuring a mid-sized reference company that lets customers see and experience for themselves what Microsoft means by the term “the new world of work.” This new environment will enable partners to showcase the Microsoft technology stack and integrate solutions featuring the newest Microsoft software in scenarios that are directly relevant to the customer’s role and business need. This product is slated for release to all certified and gold certified partners this summer.

PressPass: What about tools specifically for mid-market customers themselves?

Lauer: Microsoft recently launched an online Midsize Business Center, which helps customers solve key pain points associated with midsize businesses, such as security and support issues and improved productivity. It also provides customers with new online licensing tools, guidelines and resources on securing midsize business software and links to more support options including Live Chat and partner tools. The Midsize Business Center now offers wider geographic coverage in 15 countries.

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