Microsoft is a Textbook Case of How to Do It Right

Microsoft's entry into the professional-services business is one of the best things that can happen to this market.

Microsofts entry into the professional-services business is one of the best things that can happen to this market. The vendor has always been one of the greatest demand generators in the industry, and its foray into the enterprise space could open more doors and create more opportunities than anyone has ever done in this space.

It all comes down to a go-to-market strategy, and Microsoft is a textbook case of how to do it right—at least on the desktop, where it emerged victorious from what is perhaps one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of business. The company has lots of battle scars, not to mention enemies, to prove that point.

Getting into the enterprise space is another matter entirely, however, and Microsoft has tried time and again to win mind share among C-level executives with only spotty success. Windows 2000 and its predecessor, NT, have long been accepted on corporate desktops, but when it comes to running mission-critical applications, most companies have opted for Unix or IBMs OS/390.

Microsoft has trained thousands of solutions providers on all of its BackOffice products, but with only limited success. It has put together one of the most thorough education curricula for its SQL Server partners, but it still hasnt displaced Oracle. In fact, Microsoft was convinced two years ago that it would gain market share largely because Oracle has a mixed history of sidestepping its partners and even competing with them head-on.

But the enterprise space, particularly in Global 1000 accounts, isnt about a single vendor. Its about a group of vendors and service providers working in tandem, and thats what Microsoft missed on the first attempt. Large accounts are quite willing to do business directly with large vendors, and they want to know theyre getting support from the people who developed key software.

The reigning theory is that developers can fix bugs and compatibility problems faster than anyone else. In some cases, thats true. In others, it isnt. But thats not really the point. The real issue is that Microsofts philosophy is that you grow faster if you share the wealth, and its entry into these accounts will open up all sorts of partnering opportunities that never existed before.

Still, winning the day in these accounts isnt going to be easy for Microsoft. The company never won the backing of the CIO and CEO, as did Compaq, HP, IBM and Suns enterprise units. In addition, only a minute fraction of its partners currently sell into those environments at the C-level, and many lack the skills to be the lead partner on these engagements.

At the same time, many large customers have resisted betting their businesses on Windows NT and BackOffice, largely because of issues like scalability and high availability. In the case of a Fortune 500 company, a one-minute glitch in a mission-critical server can cost millions of dollars.

Still, theres a place for Microsoft in these environments and its up to Microsoft to prove it. If the company succeeds, its business partners will succeed, as well. That has always been Microsofts strategy. And given the fact that the company is in desperate need of a new growth opportunity, you can bet its going to throw everything it has at this problem. That includes everyone whos an existing partner, and those who are potential partners. This is how Microsoft has always gone to war, and theres no indication it plans to do anything different this time.