Steve Ballmer: Charted Accountant Conference

Remarks by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Paris, France
October 2, 2008

MODERATOR: (Speaking French.)

STEVE BALLMER: (Speaking French.) And now I’ll switch to English. (Laughter.) I appreciate the kind words from the president about the sense of vision, and the view of the future that I’d like to share with you today. I’m excited to have that opportunity. I was watching back stage the TV program from 1978, and I hope I’m as good as he was at talking about the future of something called Telematique. But it was amazing to see.

I’m going to try to spend a little bit of time and give you a sense of where I think technology is going. I also want to spend a little bit of time and give you a sense of what I think that might mean for small businesses, and for the accounting professionals who serve them. At the end of the day, I think that one of the things that is most important, has been most important, about technology is the productivity that it has brought to everyone, not just to the largest companies, not just to consumers at home, but really to everyone. At Microsoft, we talk about our mission as a company as enabling people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. The concept essentially speaks to the fundamental value of information technology. Information technology unleashes human productivity, human creativity, human connection, and is really an amazing, amazing thing.

I’ve been at Microsoft now almost 30 years, almost since the days of Telematique and its forecast from the video. And we’ve seen so much happen. And the real question which I suppose is important to ask first is, what does the future look like? Will technology keep the same pace of change and advance, and forward progress over the next 10 years that it has the last 10 years?

And I think the answer to that question is certainly yes. If you take a look as we move forward, the pace of innovation, whether it’s in computer hardware, computer software, or in computer applications will be amazing. We will continue to see the evolution of the user interface of these computers. You’ll not only type on your computer, you’ll talk to your computer. You’ll not only have to learn the language of the computer, file, open, cut, copy, paste, the computer will learn the language you speak. You’ll say to the computer, just get me ready for my trip to London. It will check your calendar, see who you are going to visit, bring down all of the correct papers to your laptop so you have them when you get on the airplane, this will be possible in the next 10 years. Screens, screens, everything you want will be a digital screen in 10 years.

I’m not sure I can even, with all of these microphones, find it, but some place in here I have a piece of paper. This will be a digital screen in 10 years. Literally, the technology is changing so fast that we will have screens connected to the Internet that are this light, and this thin, this flexible. There’s a lot of things we like about paper, but if you really told me this was connected to the Internet, I could see anything, all of my writing would be automatically backed up and stored, that would be a phenomenal, phenomenal advance. Every surface, I would just reach down and touch, and the computer would respond and find the right thing for me on the Internet. It’s a big advance.

All content, all communication, all transactions, everything that can be digital will be digital. Suppose you’re watching television 10 years from now, let’s suppose I’m watching television, I can speak for myself. I’ll be watching TV, I like golf. My favorite golfer, Tiger Woods, of course, will be on the TV, he’ll hit a nice shot. I’ll yell to my TV, hey, Bill, did you see Tiger make that putt? My TV will have a lot of smart software. It will wake up, Bill, Bill, who does he mean when he says Bill? Bill Gates of course. Where is Bill Gates? It will find him, wherever he is in the world. He’ll say, are you available for interruption? And, of course, he’ll say, for Steve, I’m always available for interruption. Whatever he’s doing, he’ll say, hey, Bill, did you see Tiger make that putt? And instantaneously his TV will be flipped exactly to what I was watching when I said it. And he’ll say, hey, Steve, Tiger, what’s that club he’s using? Maybe we’d be that good if we used that club. You’ll point your remote control at the TV, you’ll do a search across the whole Internet, they’ll figure out which golf club it is by the picture, and say, hey do you want to buy one? Of course, I will say, I’ll buy two. Bill needs one also. So the world will evolve in some amazing ways.

This is a great meeting, it’s a great meeting, but it hasn’t really been altered, and affected, and enhanced that much by technology. We all still take notes on paper. Perhaps one of your colleagues couldn’t come with you today, and you really want to immediately write a note that says, hey, Steve is making no sense. Well, you want that transmitted along with the image, along with the slides. There’s a great gentleman here taking videotape. I’ve actually never met anybody who ever looked at a videotape of any of my speeches unless it was a silly one that showed up on YouTube. And so at the end of the day, meetings get transformed, TV, all of these areas of technology will evolve in amazing ways over the course of the next 10 years.

One of the things that we as a company are trying to do is be very broad in the way we invest in R&D to try to bring these scenarios together in a very seamless and effective way. At Microsoft today, we talk not about our mission, not what we’re trying to do, but our vision of how to do it, creating experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of the Internet across a world of devices, from the PC to the TV to the phone, inside corporations, and from the Internet. We need software that works together seamlessly to bring together the information, the communications, and the experiences people need to effectively do their jobs, and that requires a lot of innovation, a lot of innovation. It requires the kinds of innovation I talked about, but it will also require innovation in areas like search, and business analysis.

Most business people I talk to today are still frustrated that it is hard to find the information they need to do their job. Even in very small businesses, keeping track of customer and orders, which order was that, when did it come in, just posing a simple little question and getting the answer back. We have to make that a seamless experience, whether you’re at your phone, or your PC, or you’re at a PC in an Internet cafe, whether you store your information on your own PC, or perhaps you store it on a server, or someplace out in the Internet. And the power of doing those things, and doing them seamlessly with companies like Microsoft, but also partners like Sage, and Sage and some of the other important companies that build the software and applications that I know are important to you, and to the clients that you serve.

One of the big trends that will help propel these advances is a trend that we refer to as software plus services. For my whole time, 28 years at Microsoft, software has fundamentally been something that you put on a disk, and you sell it to somebody either in a store or directly through the mail. Over the last few years, software has been transforming, software is now a service that you can access out of the Internet, and it improves productivity and efficiency a lot. ADP here in France has a great service of payroll processing. People don’t wind up buying the software, they use the service. We’ve launched here in France a service that we call Office Live for Small Businesses, so that people can put things up in a Web site, share them, do some marketing, CRM, business analytics, keep track of customers. And the ability to do this will improve ease of use, drive better value at lower cost, but most importantly let businesses be more agile, get more things done more simply than ever before. And small businesses, frankly, are embracing this trend more quickly than the large enterprises. And the smaller the business, the more likely it is to embrace this trend.

Now, as we all know, there are many small businesses here in France, and around the world, that have yet to embrace really IT. At the end of the day, the part of the economy of the market that is least well addressed today by technology is the small business. And the ability to use this transformation to let small businesses easily and effectively do what they need to and want to do, I have no detailed knowledge of this small business makeup of the French economy, but I do have a favorite small business type that’s very popular in France, the bakery. Most of the bakeries you visit don’t look very well automated. I may be wrong about that, but that’s my experience. The ability to automatically from the Internet be able to get the kind of software that would simply and easily even let a small business like that automate would be fantastic, it would be, I’m sure, fantastic for the accountants. And, at the end of the day, I’m sure the croissant would be just as tasty as they were before. So there is an amazing opportunity here with new technology to better serve the small business customer.

When we talk to small businesses, there’s a number of things that they tell us they are most interested in using technology to solve. First, and most important, turns out to be marketing. I know I’m talking to a group of accountants, and I know your preference would probably be that they put the priority on getting their accounts and finances digitized. But most small businesses, in fact, will tell you their number one priority is getting new customers. And, therefore, the number one priority they have is to reach people more effectively. Most small businesses in the world, including here in France, don’t have Web sites yet. And yet with the power of new search technologies from Microsoft, from Google, from others, the ability to really find the right small business to handle anybody’s individual needs is really getting unbelievable, unbelievable. So Web presence, e-mail, search, marketing. I have a friend who I went to school with, she runs a business that just sublets apartments here in Paris. All of her business nowadays comes over the Internet. It’s impossible to run a business like that without IT as a core marketing tool. E-commerce, actually selling something over the Internet, keeping track of customers, just keeping track of customers for plumbers, for doctors, for lawyers, for architects, and other service professionals… amazing opportunity.

We all know the opportunity to automate finances is high. What are the three most popular small business accounting systems in France? Line 100, very popular; the Sage products, very excellent, very popular; Excel, very popular, I think. You might say it doesn’t look like your normal accounting system, but maybe we could all work together to make it a little easier to accept accounts that are kept track of in Excel. Collaboration, most small businesses don’t have internal need to collaborate, but how do I work with the other customers and partners? Suppose you are a small landlord, and you want to work with the lawyers and bankers of a prospective tenant, how do you put up a small place where everybody can collaborate on the lease? And, of course, we have to protect information.

Microsoft is making some investments in these scenarios, and I do encourage you, we have a booth here at the show where we’re showing some of our Office Live technologies, bringing Excel, and CRM, and Outlook into this world, because most small businesses don’t have the time or the inclination to go learn new software products. They want products that they use every day to grow with them, to enable new scenarios, and to embrace the exciting new technologies of the future.

I think that we, as a company, and we, as an industry, need to work together in partnership to drive information technology to be more valuable to the PMEs here in France, and around the world. Innovative solutions, not just from Microsoft, but from business partners here and elsewhere. We need partners who will help small businesses automate. The small businesses I know here in France, but around the world, they look first to their accountants for expertise in a lot of matters that are related to automation. And while certainly it’s not your job to be technology experts, I think it is all of our jobs to ask how can we help the small businesses cross the digital divide. I know we’ll hear from Minister Besson later, but I had a chance to speak with him earlier today, and a lot of our discussion actually focused in on the need to continue to drive automation into the small business sector here in France. And, of course, last but not least, we all need to help small businesses use technology to really drive revenue growth.

With that, I want to wrap up my remarks. I do think the thing I want to leave you with, though, is the thing that I started with. I want to leave you with a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the power of innovation advances. Ten years ago, ten years ago, most people in this audience did not own a cell phone, mobile phone. Ten years ago, most people in this audience did not have a PC. Ten years ago, most people in the world were just learning what the Internet was, let alone whether they had a broadband or narrowband connection. Ten years from now, we’ll look back today, and we’ll say, how primitive was our life? How much has technology advanced? I think the next 10 years will be even more exciting than the last. And I think when all is said and done, the TV newscast, broadcast from 2008, when you look at it in 2038, a lot of the trends we’ll have talked about correctly, but we’ll still be amazed by the progress and advances in society overall, in business, and in everything we do.

I thank you. I thank again the society for the opportunity to come speak with you today. I’ll look forward to some questions. But merci beaucoup. (Applause.)


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