Q&A: Microsoft Office Live Works Round the Clock to Meet Small Business Needs

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 31, 2006 – When Rajesh Jha was tapped to lead the development of Microsoft Office Live services in January 2005, his team had not much more than an initial concept of providing easy-to-use, affordable, Web-based services for small businesses. Microsoft Office Live debuted in a beta version just over a year later, with more than 160,000 small business customers using the software since February 2006.

The latest milestone for this offering comes on Nov. 15 with general availability of Microsoft Office Live Internet software and services, which are designed to help small businesses attract new customers, generate repeat business and manage their businesses in one online location. Available at www.OfficeLive.com, Office Live includes new and enhanced tools for establishing a customer-focused Web site, managing online ad campaigns on Windows Live Search (powered by MSN.com and Live.com), providing Web-based access to business products and files, and more.

PressPass recently asked Jha, corporate vice president for Microsoft Office Live, about the strategy for Office Live and the newest capabilities that it will provide for small businesses.

PressPass: What are your key priorities as corporate vice president for the Microsoft Office Live team?

Rajesh Jha, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Office Live

Rajesh Jha: I am responsible for overseeing the worldwide marketing and development of Office Live, Microsoft’s easy-to-use and affordable Internet software and services for small businesses. In late 2004, when I was part of the organization working on Microsoft Office InfoPath, Jeff Raikes [president of the Microsoft Business Division] and others began moving the company toward developing software as a service. We saw this as a means to deliver more value to end customers, especially small businesses that don’t have IT expertise. Jeff asked me to form a team to work toward fulfilling this new mission.

Through Office Live, we are a one-stop shop for these businesses. We take care of their IT needs, establish an online presence for them, and help them acquire new customers as well as create repeat business from their existing customers. We work very closely with our colleagues in the Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows Live groups to ensure all of the Office Live offerings are delivered in a unified and well-planned way that targets specific customer needs. We’re striving to create innovative technology, but always with a focus on how these products and services really make an impact for small businesses.

PressPass: Why has Microsoft targeted Office Live to small businesses, and how does this offering specifically meet these customers’ needs?

Jha: Small businesses are the most technologically underserved segment of the market, and we believe that Microsoft software has a lot to offer to them. Companies with 10 or less employees typically lack in-house technical resources or a dedicated IT budget. Office Live can bring them all the productivity and efficiency benefits of our software that larger organizations tend to have. Office Live is offered separately from Microsoft Office and Windows Vista, but can be easily integrated with popular Microsoft Office productivity products. Office Live augments the ways that these customers already use Microsoft Office productivity applications. These Internet-based applications and services, many of which are actually provided free of charge, make it easy for customers to grow and manage their business online.

PressPass: What opportunities does Office Live create for Microsoft industry partners?

Jha: We know small-business owners not only need software and services that are easy to implement, but also professional services that help them compete with their larger business counterparts. To address these customers’ unique needs that require very specific solutions and tools, we’ve made big investments in engineering Office Live as a platform for our partners to build upon. They can customize the products we ship or create industry- and customer-specific solutions from the ground up on this platform. In the latest release of Office Live, we’ve incorporated Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 to further support partners in delivering products via software as a service or integrating them into 2007 Microsoft Office system as well as older versions of Office.

There are also tremendous revenue opportunities for all types of companies to advertise on Office Live, and reach new audiences with their offerings. Another benefit to partners is that if they’ve previously built on-site products and services in Microsoft Office for their customers, they already have the skills to create Office Live solutions that offer customers a greater choice between on-premise solutions and software as a service. Partners can sell a rich array of services on top of the infrastructure that we provide with Office Live, Microsoft Office SharePoint Services technologies and the growing variety of Windows Live services.

PressPass: What’s new in the latest version of Office Live?

Jha: Based on customers’ feedback, we’ve enhanced our Site Designer to be even more friendly and easier to use. We’ve built it completely in the Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) Web programming model to ensure that customers’ Web pages built with Site Designer are as dynamic and interactive as possible. We also have added elements of the Office user interface to Site Designer so it’s even easier to use.

I’m very pleased with the new sales and marketing tools, including Office Live AdManager, which helps a small business easily buy keyword-search-based advertising throughout Microsoft online properties such as Windows Live Search and the MSN network. Also, we’ve added Office Live Business Contact Manager tool to provide sophisticated tracking of customers and help business owners drive more sales out of those relationships. In addition, customers can take advantage of free tools for accounting and commerce management provided by Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007.

Lastly, Office Live now includes the new Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Messenger user interfaces for e-mail, calendar and instant-messaging, respectively. When businesses receive their unique Web site domain, they can take advantage of all the integrated communication features available across Office Live.

PressPass: What else makes you personally excited about the Office Live service?

Jha: It’s that Office Live delivers value to our customers in a very easy-to-use and affordable form. I’m passionate about providing small businesses with affordable tools to build, manage and grow their business. When a customer signs up for Office Live, they’re off and running within a few minutes. Not only do we take care of their online presence – from the Web site to e-mail – but we also help them fulfill mission-critical tasks such as obtaining and retaining customers in more direct and timely ways with tools such as adManager and Business Contact Manager.

PressPass: What types of feedback have you heard from customers involved in the Office Live beta since February, and how has their input helped shape the product?

Jha: More than 160,000 customers participated in the Office Live beta testing program, and many of them gave us very useful feedback about the services along with validation of the Office Live approach. Their specific feedback is very interesting: everything from “Make it easier for me to move an existing Web domain to Office Live” to “Help me manage my e-mail boxes better.” We’ve addressed much of this in the latest release.

Small businesses also are eager to maximize their online visibility and sell more offerings to more customers. We’ve taken that feedback to heart in creating and launching a beta version of the new Microsoft Office Live adManager service. This service is fully integrated with Microsoft adCenter to help small businesses drive more traffic to their Web sites and closely track the return on their advertising investments. They can actually see how many hits their Web site is getting each day, and where the hits are coming from, which helps them fine-tune the site so that it best represents their business.

Based on input from our customers, we’ve also enhanced the tools for building highly professional Web sites from right within the browser and for managing customer relationships in the Office Live environment.

PressPass: What business benefits are some of these customers achieving already with Office Live?

Jha: We’ve heard from thousands of small-business owners that they feel much more confident and are noticeably more competitive as a result of having a Web presence. Small businesses in particular need that kind of agility as they are evolving and growing so quickly. When they use Office Live, these customers are not intimidated by the service because it’s easy to use and doesn’t require training or consultants. They can launch their Web site quickly and customize it as the business evolves. [See sidebar, left.]

One of our customers, Viva Dance Co. in Monroe, Mich., received more than 1,000 hits on its Office Live Web site in the first month. The owner, Nicci Blanke, said she was especially gratified by how easily she could change the site without incurring large costs, especially after parents started asking for more types of information online, like directions to area dance competitions and photos of the students. Nicci is also using Office Live to promote her own line of dance clothing on the Web site – creating yet another revenue opportunity for her company.

PressPass: A number of other technology vendors also offer services targeted at small businesses. What sets Office Live apart from competitors?

Jha: For one, Office Live is the most affordable service in the market. We give each of our customers a no-charge Web domain that includes multiple mailboxes, instant messenger accounts and calendars, analytical tools, and even technical support. Those services, together with the range of business products that we offer, are an exceptional value for small businesses on a tight budget.

Second, Office Live is an integrated whole for small businesses. They don’t want to go to one vendor for a Web domain, another for help creating their Web site, another for their marketing needs, and another for business products. We’ve brought all of these capabilities together in one package. That has a huge impact on cost savings as well as better manageability for small-business owners.

Third, Office Live is closely and naturally integrated with Office system applications such as Outlook, Excel and Access. Thus, Office Live customers can synchronize or take their Office Live information offline so they can continue to work when they don’t have access to the Internet. Conversely, when they need to do a lot of data processing without going online, they can work offline in the Microsoft Office client products and synchronize files with Office Live later.

PressPass: What are Microsoft’s plans for enhancing Office Live in the coming year, and how do you foresee this technology space evolving?

Jha: We will maintain our customer-focused approach by emphasizing ease of use and integrated experiences across all the Office Live products and services. We will also continue to invest in creating additional sales and marketing services that small businesses demand, as well as supporting even greater customization on the Office Live platform.

We’re continuing to expand these services to other markets – including Germany, the U.K., Japan and France later this month – with more countries to follow over the coming year. This includes making sure we enable partners in each country to further enhance Office Live for specific market needs in those countries.

We are also preparing to offer Office Live services that are specifically tailored to individual information workers, whether they’re in a small business or a large enterprise. Wherever people seek to use Office Live, we want to make sure it works exactly how they need it to create greater value in their day-to-day business.

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